Yet another vulture fell victim to illegal persecution, which resulted in severe lead poisoning, this time in Portugal. This story had a happy ending as the Griffon Vulture survived and is out of danger, but the fact that these protected birds are still illegally persecuted is extremely troubling.
Shot Griffon Vulture rescued and rehabilitated in Portugal
At the beginning of November 2020, a juvenile Griffon Vulture found weak in Elvas, Portugal, needed urgent help. So, Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) swiftly transported the vulture to the CERAS wildlife rehabilitation centre in Castelo Branco. After a thorough examination, the team at the centre realized that this Griffon Vulture was suffering from lead poisoning, and had to act fast in order to save its life.
They performed an X-ray and detected a total of 38 lead shot pellets scattered in its body, with at least one at the gastrointestinal tract level. Furthermore, the laboratory quantification of lead confirmed the bird's high exposure to this heavy metal (21.2 μg/dL), which corresponded to subclinical intoxication for the species.
The animal was in a critical state, but the team was committed to give this vulture another chance at life! They treated it with EDTA chelating therapy for two weeks, using the EDTA calcium medicine, which was donated by us here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) as it is very difficult to find in Portugal. Now, after almost two months, the young bird is finally out of danger, training its flight capabilities alongside other Griffon Vultures currently housed at CERAS.
It is unacceptable that a protected species was illegally shot. When such cases occur, thorough investigations should take place to identify and prosecute the criminal(s) responsible to help deter similar instances from occurring in the future! This case also highlighted the danger lead poisoning poses to vultures, and the urgent need to tackle this threat.
Fighting illegal bird killing
We here at the VCF are working alongside multiple partners to minimize illegal bird killing along key migratory flyways. One large-scale project funded by the MAVA Foundation is now underway, with actions in many countries, including communications campaigns, increased enforcement on particular black spots, training of enforcement agencies, and lobbying for strengthening environmental protection legislation and regulations.
Tackling the threat of lead poisoning
We are committed to tackling the threat of lead poisoning as it poses a limiting parameter in the conservation of vultures in Europe. We are working together with many partners towards a gradual and consensual elimination of lead ammunition from vulture habitats. We have also contributed to calls for evidence from the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) of the European Union. More information on what is currently being done as well as VCF's future goals regarding minimizing this threat can be found in this blog post.
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