Poison is the main threat to vultures worldwide, as identified in the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan, a comprehensive strategic document that highlights priority for action for the conservation of 15 species of old world´s vultures, and that was recently adopted by the signatories of the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS).
As a consequence, many countries dedicate considerable resources to fight this illegal act – but fighting poison is a long term and continuous job, and poison still kills vultures in the heart of Europe, often within protected areas.
This seems to be the case with two cinereous vultures found dead in Thrace (Greece), 30 km from the boundaries of the Dadia National Park, where the species only breeding colony in the Balkans occurs. In early December last year, the anti-poison team of WWF Greece, which uses dogs to search and identify poisoned animals and baits, received a call from the Management Body of Dadia National Park about a black vulture tagged with a satellite transmitter which had been sending out repeated signals from the very same position.
In the last few months 28 black vultures from the Greek colony have been equipped with tags, in the frame of two projects: Operational Program “Environment and Sustainable Development” (NSRF 2007-2013) and LIFE RE-VULTURES.
The vulture was located close to a village named Tsouka in the Rhodopes. Kiko, WWF Greece´s poison-sniffing dog, went into action, and found not only the tagged cinereous vulture (see photo) but also, on the opposite side of the hill, another dead cinereous vulture, this one without any transmitter on its back (see photo). Besides the two vultures, the remains of two dead livestock (goat and sheep) were found, so the suggestion is that some poison baits were put on the dead livestock, that were consumed by scavengers, including the two vultures.
Once again, the “silent killer” caused a wildlife crime with devastating results. Poison baits are one of the most destructive methods to deal with predators, as they kill indiscriminately all wildlife. The impact was once again disastrous: Evros, the tagged cinereous vulture, was 19 years old, and a very good breeder – it bred successfully almost every year in this small and isolated population.
The Management Body of Dadia National Park is now in charge of all the toxicological analysis, to try to find what killed Evros and the other cinereous vulture.
This population is benefitting from significant conservation action within the LIFE project “Conservation of Black and Griffon vultures in the cross-border Rhodope Mountains”, led by Rewilding Europe in partnership with Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/Birdlife Bulgaria, WWF Greece, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Hellenic Ornithological Society/BirdLife Greece. This LIFE project, currently underway, aims to recover and further expand the black and griffon vulture populations in this part of the Balkans, mainly by improving natural prey availability and reducing mortality factors such as poaching, poisoning and electrocution and collision with power lines.
Two cinereous vultures down – but our resolve to fight this threat strengthened.
Photos: L. Sidiropoulos, Ela Kret – WWF Greece