The reintroduced Griffon Vulture population of Kresna Gorge in Bulgaria suffered a massive blow with the poisoning of 30 birds in 2017, a large proportion of the breeding population. However, thanks to the continued efforts to support these birds by the Foundation for Wild Flora and Fauna in 2018 the population is recovering as the recently published 2018 Annual Report of the project highlights.
Kresna Gorge runs along the Struma River in south-west Bulgaria between the Pirin and Maleshevska mountain ranges. As a result of wildlife poisoning to resolve conflicts between livestock owners and mammalian predators Griffon Vultures went extinct in Kresna Gorge 60 years ago. The Foundation for Wild Flora and Fauna began a project in 2010 to reintroduce the population to the area and continues that work as part of the Vultures Back to LIFE project.
Population begins to recover
Following the devastating poisoning incident in Spring 2017 the local group of Griffon Vultures ranged between 15 and 35 birds and reached over 50 by the end of 2018. The highlight of the year was the successful breeding of a pair. In 2017 it was expected that three pairs would be breeding in that breeding season, however this did not occur. In 2018 a pair successfully raised a chick, the fourth successful breeding since the reintroduction population began. The team also observed exchange between the Kresna Gorge population and the population in the neighbouring Demir Kapia colony in the FYR Macedonia. There were also 100 visiting vultures seen in the area, not part of the released population.
Over 60 tons of animal carcasses were deposited at the ‘Vulture Restaurants’ in Kresna Gorge. These continue to be important for Griffon Vultures and other visiting vulture species. 2018 marked the sixth year both Egyptian and Cinereous Vultures visited the feeding stations, including Ostrava, the Cinereous Vulture released as part of the historic reintroduction project.
Illegal wildlife poisoning remains the single biggest threat to the Griffon Vultures of Kresna Gorge with it being practised widely in the Struma Valley. In 2018 the team have also been tackling some of the other issues that vultures face in the region such as insulating dangerous powerlines that in the past have been the cause of vulture mortalities.
LIFE for Kresna Gorge
Over the last 15 years the Foundation for Wild Flora and Fauna has been leading efforts to return Griffon Vultures to Kresna Gorge. In 2010 the organisation began a European Union LIFE funded programme to reintroduce the species back to the area. Over five years around 60 vultures were released into the area from Spain and France, helping to establish a colony in Kresna Gorge for the first time since the species went extinct. The first breeding of the population took place in 2011, unfortunately the chick died, but by 2015-2016 the population included around six to eight breeding pairs with two chicks fledging the nests in 2016, confirming the successful re-establishment of the species in Kresna Gorge.
Griffon Vultures in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria the population declined through most of the 20th Century and was thought to be extinct in the country in the 1960s until the discovery in 1978 of 28 birds and one breeding pair in the Rhodope mountains. Significant conservation efforts by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds since 1989 led to the slow increase of this population, that now numbers around 80 breeding pairs. The Kresna Gorge population is now the second most important Griffon Vulture population in Bulgaria.
Vultures Back to LIFE
Led by the wildlife conservation charity Green Balkans, with activities also implemented by theFund for Wild Flora and Fauna, and bringing together partners from Bulgaria, Spain and Germany, Vultures Back to LIFE aims to reintroduce the cinereous or Eurasian black vulture to Bulgaria. The team will transfer and release around 60 birds, some from captive-breeding, but mostly coming from wildlife rehabilitation centers in Extremadura (Spain) into the wild in Bulgaria as well as creating supplementary feeding stations and improving populations of wild herbivores, improving the nesting conditions and creating artificial nest sites and tackling some of the major threats to vultures in the country such as insulating electricity pylons and illegal use of poison in the nature.