Last February we reported on the tragic death of Durzon, one of the bearded vultures that had been released there last year as part of the GypConnect project. Our partners on the project at Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), who co-ordinate efforts to reintroduce bearded vultures in the Causses, have recently released the results of his death and Durzon, along with a worryingly large number of other raptors including vultures - had been poisoned.
Durzon was born in the Guadalentin bearded vulture captive-breeding centre in Andalucia in May 2017 and released in the Grands Causses in France the following July. After fledging from the hacking nest Durzon made several small journeys around the Grands Causses before traveling further afield, all the way to northern Germany. Such a long journey appeared to have an impact on his health as he was getting visibly weaker.
Whilst he was spotted in Hannover, the decision was taken to intervene and recapture him and return him to the Grands Causses, where he was re-released in August. Since then he has remained in the surrounding areas until his death in February.
The silent killer
After Durzon was found close to a power line near the town of Milau it was initially thought he’d died from injuries as a result of a collision. However, after a post-mortem and toxicology tests, it became clear that Durzon was killed by illegal poisoning using Carbofuran, a banned insecticide from the carbamate family.
Long used in agriculture or to fight against so-called "undesirable" species (wolves, foxes, cats or dogs), this insecticide is often sprayed over baits and laid out with the intention with of poisoning the species they target. It is one of the most toxic pesticides for humans and is classified "very dangerous" by the World Health Organization.
The insecticide has been banned in France since 2008 (World Health Organization, 2010), despite this its sale continues to thrive online alongside other products banned.
The news of the cause of death was only released recently because French police started an investigation into the case. An anti-poisoning dog patrol was even brought over from Catalonia to help with the investigations - unfortunately, no suspect was identified or detained.
Threat to vultures
The death of Durzon is just one of an increasing number of deaths of raptors from illegal poisoning registered in the Grand Causses and in other places in France in the first six months of the year – a few weeks later a cinereous vulture and a griffon vulture were found dead – poisoned again with carbofuran – nearby. If they continue at this rate the LPO suggests that 2018 will be the worst year so far for poisoning incidents in France.
Poisoning 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).
Stronger action needed to bring offenders to justice
In France the bearded vulture, like all species of raptors, is a protected species. Its destruction, voluntary or involuntary is punished with up to 2 years of imprisonment and up to 150 000 € fine. However, the death of Durzon and several other cases of raptor poisoning in Aveyron are still unresolved. Here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation we join our colleagues in the LPO in demanding that all means be put in place to find and prosecute the offenders of these wildlife crimes and call on every effort to ensure these products be removed from online sale sites.
Every individual counts – especially in the case of a rare and long-lived species like the bearded vulture. The poisoning of even one bird in the Causses is a blow to our efforts to reintroduce the species in the region – one of the most successful reintroduction and wildlife comeback projects of our times now rests in balance. We all need to act – now!