As part of our LIFE Re-Vultures vulture conservation project we organised an International Workshop of Vultures and Veterinary Drugs that took place in the Visitor Centre of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park, Greece between the 19 and 20 February.
Over 60 participants joined us and WWF Greece, the Management Body of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park and Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds for this workshop. Participants came from France, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Greece, representing nature conservation organisation working on vulture conservation, international experts in this filed, relevant governmental institutions and veterinaries.
Understanding the threat to vultures from veterinary products
For two days the workshop involved 15 great presentations, constructive discussions ad great side activities organised by WWF Greece and the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park. The workshop aimed to:
Veterinary diclofenac (a NSAID) has been proved to cause a +95% decline in the Indian vulture populations and it is now, quite surprisingly, marketed legally in Spain and Italy (we and our partners are leading a campaign to ban it in the EU). Recently, the first case of a lethal poisoning of a Griffon Vulture by another NSAID flunixin has come to light. Today many farm animals receive small/large doses of antibiotics and other veterinary drugs.
The main topic of discussion during the workshop was the negative impact of toxic products and contaminants suchas Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID), antibiotics, antiparasitics and anthelmintics, euthanasia drugs, esp. barbiturates which are an increasingly serious threat to the health of vultures and other scavenger species that feed on domestic animals.
In our Workshop Report, which can be downloaded below, we outline all the outcomes and conclusions of the two day Workshop. These include:
During the course of the Workshop it was agreed that while illegal wildlife poisoning using pesticides was the main threat to vultures, exposure to harmful toxins in veterinary products is an emerging threat that we know little about in Bulgaria and Greece.
In order of priority and importance the potentially toxic products are: NSAIDs, Euthanasia agents, Antibiotics and Antiparasitics.
Assessment of farming practices, usage of vet drugs, supplementary feeding sites operations - very useful to inform potential analysis (questionnaires, etc)
From the food safety perspective, parameters that ensure human safety relative to animal carcasses but do not apply to scavengers.
In Bulgaria and Greece the state reference labs mostly focused on residues for human consumption on vegetables, meat and milk. Limited capacity-accreditation-engagement for analysis of wildlife samples
Poisoning by exposure to veterinary products is is an area that needs more research, monitoring, data and analysis to help evaluate the threat it poses to vultures in Bulgaria and Greece. To do this it is recommended that:
As future step, all participants agreed that we should compile a list of approved veterinary dugs from all countries form the Balkan region.
The importance of the post-mortem
Lack of capacities for performing a thorough post-mortem was mentioned several times over the Workshop. Good post-mortem reports can be extremely valuable step in confirming the poisoning incident. Cannot confirm poisoning as cause of death, but can defiantly help to select the suitable samples for toxicological analyses and direct into a specific group of contaminates to be analysed - something that can safe effort, time and costs. As Florence Roque was present at the Workshop, counting with great experience in avian post-mortems, out of the Workshop agenda we decided to organise a two hours of post-mortem training demonstration using dead Cinereous Vulture recently found in the area. This short training session appeared to be very helpful for the workshop participants, particularly for the local vets from Dadia.
During the afternoon of day two of the Workshop, WWF Greece and the Management Body of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park organised several activities for the workshop participants, such as: visit to a Cinereous Vulture nest, birdwatching at the observatory facing the vulture feeding site, walk through the wonderful Dadia forest, etc.
Overall, excellent two days of workshop, great presentations, great discussion in excellent company and environment.
This Workshop was organized within the LIFE Project: RE-Vultures (LIFE14 NAT/NL/000901), Action E13 by the Vulture Conservation Foundation in close collaboration with WWF Greece, the Management Body of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park and Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds.
Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE RE-Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, WWF Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society and us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of the populations of Cinereous and Griffon Vultures in the cross-border region of the Rhodope Mountain by improving natural prey availability, monitoring movements of birds to help understand the threats they face and carrying out activities that will reduce the mortality of the populations from threats such as illegal wildlife poisoning and collisions with electricity infrastructure.