The VCF has just published a report, commissioned by the LIFE+ project “The Return of the Neophron” (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152) on possible infections (bacteria or virus) and potential exposure to toxic substances or intoxications caused by heavy metals, pesticides and veterinary medicaments on samples from Egyptian vultures from the Balkans.
The Egyptian Vulture is declining throughout most of its distribution range. In the Balkan Peninsula, the population has declined from over 500 pairs in the 80es to less than 80 pairs currently (Velevski et al. 2015). There are numerous threats affecting the species. Poor health condition resulting from the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other veterinary products, and contamination with heavy metals and incidence of different diseases, has been mentioned as a potential threat.
To better understand this aspect, “The Return of the Neophron” project asked the VCF to coordinate such a study. A total of 182 samples (36 blood samples for toxicology, and 146 samples from throat, cloaca, and eye for pathogen analysis), from a total of 49 individuals (mainly fledglings) from Bulgaria and Greece, were collected by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, Hellenic Ornithological Societyand WWF Greece during 2012 and 2013, and sent for analysis in 2014 to the Center for Analysis and Diagnosis of Wildlife (CAD) in Malaga, Spain.
For the infectious part, a long list of microorganisms (Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., Esherichia coli 0157, Chlamidia spp., Avian mycoplasma, Avian adenovirus, Avian circovirus, Newcastle, West Nile and Bordetella) was analysed - all of them known as potential pathogens affecting birds of prey or Egyptian Vultures in particular. For their identification and quantification microbiological and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) analyses were used. The results revealed that most of the individuals were in good health - only very low concentrations of Newcastle, Avian adenovirus andAvian circovirus were detected in some of the samples, indicating that some individuals had contact with these viruses (probably very common, but were not suffering from these diseases.
In terms of toxicological analyses, samples were analysed for heavy metals (lead and cadmium), 270 different pesticide compounds, 137 antibiotics and 21 anti-inflammatories. All these compounds can be found in vulture food (coming from agricultural and veterinary practices) and might have negative effects on the Egyptian Vulture’s condition. The results were surprisingly good - nearly all of the samples were negative. Only very small insignificant amounts of Aspirin (Acetylsalicylic acid) were detected in one group of samples taken from Greece.
In conclusion, the analyses performed suggest that the juveniles sampled were in good health condition during the period of sampling – not affected by any pathogen or toxic substances. While this does not allow us to extrapolate to the whole of the Balkans, and for other periods of time, it suggests that wildlife disease and intoxication with heavy metals (including lead), and with toxic compounds from agriculture or veterinarian practices may not be a significant threat to Egyptian Vultures in Bulgaria and Greece.
download the report below