Four days, 72 talks, 34 posters, eight symposia, one great party, three field trips, five vulture artists, and 240 participants - the European Vulture Conference in a nutshell. We already summarised day 1 and day 2 of the conference, and now it's time for the rest and a general overview.
The last day of the scientific programme was filled once again with insightful presentations and discussions on vulture conservation and research. Here are just some of the highlights.
One of our keynote speakers, Steffen Oppel from the RSPB, opened the last day of the scientific programme. He discussed whether reinforcement is enough to save the Egyptian Vulture in eastern Europe.
The Egyptian Vulture population in the Balkans is declining faster than in the rest of Europe. The species faced a massive decline in the region, 70% over the last three decades, which triggered conservation actions, especially in Bulgaria and Greece. A huge group of conservationists over 14 countries are monitoring and helping vultures across the flyway with the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project! Conservation actions include nest guarding, insulation of dangerous power lines, and reducing poisoning through public engagement and direct actions.
Threats vary across regions, which makes conservation actions quite difficult. For example, direct persecution is a major problem in the Middle East whereas in Ethiopia, it's electrocution. Releasing captive-bred birds in the Balkans may delay population extinction, but, If we do not increase the survival rate in the wild, it does not matter how many birds we release. Without reducing mortality along the flyway, the Balkan population will likely disappear.
What affects the survival probability of reintroduced Griffon Vultures in Israel?
Ron Efrat shared his insights on what affects the survival probability of reintroduced Griffon Vultures in Israel. Historically there were five species that bred in Israel. Now there are only two. The reintroduction of the birds started in 1993 in Golan and Cartmel. Chicks were hand-reared, and vulture reared. From studies, it was rvealed that releasing older vultures increases survival rates and that vulture-reared birds survive better than hand-reared birds, although experience makes a big difference. There is also a higher survival probability at Carmel than Golan and summer releases are better than winter ones. Today, 20% of recorded vultures in Israel are captive bred, so reintroduction programmes make a big difference!
Vision, foraging and collision in raptors
Simon Potier talked about vision, foraging and collision in raptors.
Raptors have a better visual acuity when it comes to distance compared to humans, but they see 20% lower contrast than humans. That might be why birds cannot see white turbines on light skies. So, if one of the blades of the turbines is painted black, that increases the contrast and may reduce collisions. Furthermore, the visual coverage of scavengers is much higher than in raptors.
Restoration of Bearded Vulture's corridor between Alps and Pyrenees: the program LIFE GYPCONNECT
Raphaël Néouze, the chairman of the VCF, gave us an update about our LIFE GypConnect project that aims to restore Bearded Vultures between the Alps and the Pyrenees. How do they attempt this? In addition to reintroducing them back to the wild, they establish farm feeding sites for Bearded Vultures and tackle mortality.
Griffon Vulture dependence on feeding stations under high natural food availability conditions
Volen Arkumarev shared his work on investigating Griffon Vulture reliance on feeding sites in the Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria. They study this using tracking data and carrying out field visits to feeding sites to assess the proportion of time spent at supplementary feeding sites. The monitoring showed that vultures save energy during the breeding season by foraging at supplementary feeding sites closer to their colony.
One of our keynote speakers, Patricia Mateo-Tomás, discussed the European regulations on carcass disposal, and the state of implementation of the legislations. Due to the rise of 'mad cow desease' in Europe, leaving carcasses in the field was banned. In 2007 and 2009, regulations allowed carcasses to be left in the field once again, which was the first time sanitation regulations took into account biodiversity. These regulations apply across the EU, but implementations are currently very different across countries. Even within the same country, implementations can vary depending on regions.
Vulture status and anti-poisoning work in the Balkan Peninsula
Our Programmes Manager, Jovan Andevski, delivered the last presentation of the scientific programme, discussing vulture status and anti-poisoning work in the Balkan Penninsula. The Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project decided to start from the basics to set up an efficient framework to build upon with government support even though work had been done in the Balkans for decades. The project set up national working groups with across six countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece and Macedonia), and each country produced a road-map and action plan. Poisoning is very difficult to tackle across regions, as in each country, enforcement is different. People are passionate people tackle poisoning, and they even do so over the weekend and on holidays. It is also important to try to understand the perspective of the people doing the poisoning. It's essential to engage with them with an open mind and understand their motivations to tackle the issue.
What better way to end the conference by going out in the field and enjoy some wildlife? This is why day 4 of the European Vulture Conference was dedicated to three field trips in the Algarve and Alentejo where participants observed a variety of wildlife.
Sagres and São Vicente capes
This visit to the southwesternmost point in Europe allowed for stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean. The area is a migration bottleneck, also for birds of prey, so the participants were lucky to see hundreds of migrants, including juvenile Egyptian Vultures!
Castro Verde Plains and Guadiana valley
The group visited the steppes and extensive farming of the lower Alentejo. The visit also included the lower Guadiana valley, where there is a supplementary feeding site for Griffon Vultures. The participants observed a variety of wildlife including Griffon Vultures, Great Bustards, a Cinereous Vultures, and Bonelli's and Golden eagles.
The group visited Herdade da Contenda, an estate with its typical montado habitat, where there is a breeding nucleus of Cinereous Vulture.
Vulture specialists to the rescue! During this trip, a Griffon Vulture was spotted limping and appeared exhausted, so our colleagues from Bulgaria and Portugal decided to rescue the bird. More about this soon.
Vultures through art
In addition to the scientific programme, we had a couple of side activities celebrating vultures through art. Over the conference, the vulture artists present engaged participants with various activities including, painting, sketching, poetry, storytelling and music.
We also had the pleasure to host Rory McCann, who painted live the beautiful 4 vultures mural throughout the conference.
Another key artist and scientist during the conference was Cirenia Sketches, who was summarizing some of the fantastic talks and presentations through scribing. Have a look at all of the sketches she created.
We want to thank our main sponsor, the MAVA Foundation - without their support, the conference would not have been possible. We also want to thank our other sponsors and supporters, the Vulture MsAP, CMS, Raptors MOU, and the Egyptian Vultures New LIFE Project.
Furthermore, we want to thank the scientists and conservations who shared their work and research during the conference, and of course, everyone who attended the conference!
We also want to thank the many artists who were present during the conference and the ones who contributed remotely for the silent auction and the photography exhibition.
If you did not manage to attend the conference, have a look at #Vultures2019 on social media and get an idea of what it was like! We will also be sharing more information over the next couple of months on our website, including details of some of the work and research presented at the conference. So, sign up to our newsletter and never miss any vulture news!