As we open our Balkan Vulture Anti-Poisoning Workshop today in Serbia a report from colleagues at BirdLife Greece reflects the extent of the problem not only in the country but across the whole Balkan Peninsula. Over the course of February-March alone, five rare birds of prey were found poisoned in Greece including three Cinereous Vultures, one Griffon Vulture and a Golden Eagle.
This barbaric and illegal practice is the single biggest factor preventing vultures making a comeback across the region.
Illegal wildlife poisoning in Greece
Across the Balkans, including in Greece, poisoning incidents peak between February and April coinciding with the end of the hunting season, to control fox or other predator populations. But the reports suggest vultures continue to be unintended victims of this senseless practice right across the country. The tragic reports of death of vultures in Greece we publish today follow on from the death in February of the reintroduced Bulgarian Cinereous Vulture Ostrava in the south of the country.
At the beginning of February a dead young Cinereous Vulture was found in the Dadia-Lefkimis -Soufliou Forest National Park , and just a few days later a Golden Eagle fitted with a GPS transmitter was also discovered dead. Just like Ostrava and the second Cinereous Vulture, the GPS transmitted fitted to the bird, just two days earlier, helped locate the corpse, which was found near animal remains tied to a tree with cyanide capsules, which would strongly suggest the bird was poisoned, although the team await the results of the toxicological analysis.
Tragic impact on the Greek Cinereous Vulture population
The most recent poisoning incident occurred at the end of March: two Cinereous Vultures and two Crows were found dead in the Valley of Philiouri. Both vultures were ringed and were able to be identified, one was over 15 years old, and the other five. This is a significant loss for the breeding population of the species in the area, the last remnant colony of cinereous vultures in all the Balkans.
Ella Cret , who manages the WWF Greece anti-poisoning dog unit pointed out that:
"The frequency of cases of unlawful use of poisoned baits is extremely worrying and calls for an immediate response from the authorities responsible for finding guilty persons and informing them citizens. "
Vultures know no borders
During a recent visit to Griffon Vulture nests in Thracian Meteora a team from WWF Greece discovered also a dead Griffon Vulture along with a Fox and Raven, next to the remains of a horse. The Griffon Vulture was a visitor from neighbouring Bulgaria, and thanks to colleagues from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds could be identified as one of the first wild-born birds from Vrachanski Balkan National Park from the reintroduction project in the country.
This reckless act is one of the worst recorded incidents in Thrace in the last six years, and the use of the remains of a whole horse has put the four breeding pairs of Griffon Vultures nesting in the Thracian Meteora area in severe danger.
The tragic death of this Griffon Vulture continues to highlight the need to tackle the issue across the whole region as vultures know no borders - something we are addressing with our Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project.
“Vulture populations in the Balkans are very depleted and fragmented, when compared with populations in western Europe. This is because threats such as poisoning is still prevalent. Although there are some positive signs – and we do some recovery of some vulture populations, we need to continue to fight the illegal use of poison baits to see vulture populations increase across the Balkans" said José Tavares, the Director, Vulture Conservation Foundation.
As we bring together together a range of people from non-governmental organisations working on vulture conservation and governmental agencies responsible for the environment from across the Balkan Peninsula for our Balkan Vulture Anti-Poisoning Workshop, we are calling on an end to this horrific practice.
Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project
The use of baits with poisonous substances such as the banned toxic pesticide Carbofuran is one of the most widely used predator eradication methods worldwide as highlighted in the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan, which the Vulture Conservation Foundation has co-coordinated. During the last 20 years a total of 465 vultures were found poisoned in 227 separate incidents, in total an estimated 2,300 vultures have been the victim of poisoning since 1998
The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project is a cross-border initiative bringing together wildlife conservation organisations, governmental agencies and other stakeholder such as; hunting associations, farmers and scientists, in five Balkan countries to tackle illegal wildlife poisoning.
Funded by the Mava Foundation we aim to secure real and continued engagement of the relevant national governmental authorities in the Balkan region against illegal wildlife poisoning and increase their capacity to counteract it and working together to take positive steps to protect vultures.
The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project is a partnership between us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Albanian Ornithological Society-AOS, Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania-PPNEA, Ornithological Society “Naše ptice”,Association BIOM, Hellenic Ornithological Society-HOS, Macedonian Ecological Society-MES.
The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project also contributes directly into the implementation of the Vulture Multi-Species Action Plan by carrying out anti-poisoning actions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece and Macedonia, and is building on our work for the last decade in the Balkans through the Balkan Vulture Action Plan.