The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project tested three methods for the release of captive-bred Egyptian Vultures in 2019 for the second consecutive year. These methods were the delayed-release, fostering and hacking. Such efforts are vital to help strengthen the endangered population of the species on the Balkans.
In late March in the Eastern Rhodopes, a joint team of the BSPB and Green Balkans started with the first method, the delayed-release. Three captive-bred Egyptian Vultures – Andi, Sharka and Fer, hatched and raised in the zoos Schönbrunn, Zlin and Jerez, were preparing for nearly two months to live in the wild in a special adaptation aviary.
Unfortunately, Sharka was killed by a fox during the night only three days after the release. Andi and Fer successfully adapted to the local conditions and showed attachment to the feeding station where they were released. They were both successful in finding carcasses in the wild and were interacting with the other Egyptian Vultures in the area.
Andi started his autumn migration in August and used the traditional migration route through Turkey and the Middle East. He spent almost one month on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt before crossing through Suez to Egypt and continued further south to reach his wintering grounds in Chad. Fer stayed near the release site and didn’t show migratory behaviour until 25 October and then moved south at a low pace reaching the area of Dalaman in South Turkey where he died in December. An investigation of the cause of its death is still underway.
This year one captive-bred Egyptian Vulture chick in the Green Balkans Rescue Center (Oriana) was fostered in a wild nest in the Eastern Rhodopes. The project team released the chick in the nest at the age of 56 days. The parents and the wild sibling Hedjet immediately accepted the chicks. Thankfully, both chicks successfully fledged. Hedjet fledged first, and Oriana followed ten days later. Both chicks remained near the nest and were fed by the parents until the start of their autumn migration. Hedjet started his migration first and passed over the Bosphorus. However, he continued southeast through Turkey and when reaching Marmaris crossed to Rhodes island and from there crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Egypt. Hedjet continued south and reached his wintering grounds in central Chad. Oriana used the traditional migration route through Turkey and the Middle East, then she crossed through Suez to reach Africa and settled for wintering in central Chad in the same area where Hedjet was wintering.
In August two captive-bred Egyptian Vultures were released in the Eastern Rhodopes through hacking – Romana, Lenka, and Nikola-Spasimira. All three chicks fledged from the hack. However, on the next morning after fledging Romana died due to collision with a powerline. Lenka and Nikola-Spasimira fledged later. They learned to fly and gain height and started feeding on the food provided near the hack. However, none of them visited the feeding station near the hack or was observed exploiting natural food resources.
Nikola-Spasimira was the first to start its migration. She passed through North Macedonia and Albania. When reaching the Adriatic coast, she changed the direction and continued south through Greece. She reached Peloponnese and initiated a sea crossing attempt, but after 75 km the team lost signal from her GPS, and they thought she drowned in the sea.
Lenka crossed through the Dardanelles but then followed a route through the Greek islands until reaching Crete. She crossed the island 3 times from east to west and back and made a few attempts to cross the sea but was always returning to the island. In October, Lenka settled in the southeast of Crete where she died a month later. An investigation of the cause of its death is still underway.
For the two years of experiment 14 captive-bred Egyptian Vultures were released in the Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria. Seven vultures were released through the delayed-release method, 5 through hacking and 2 through fostering. Both vultures released by fostering survived during their first autumn migration and reached their wintering grounds, 71% of the delayed released vultures survived their first south migration. In contrast, the survival rate of the birds released through hacking was only 20%. Based on the criteria for success set for each method and these preliminary results, the project classifies fostering and delayed-release as successful methods for the release of captive-bred Egyptian Vultures whereas hacking can be considered as unsuccessful. However, it should be noted that these are preliminary results, and larger sample size is needed.
All birds are donated to the project with the assistance of Antonin Vaidl - coordinator of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)
Find the report “Integrated report on the release of captive-bred Egyptian Vultures in the Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria in 2019” here.
Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
Working collaboratively projects like the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE aims to reinforce the Egyptian vulture population in their Europe’s easternmost range across the Balkans. By actively managing and restocking the population by releasing captive-bred birds the project will support the small Balkan population which number between 60 and 80 pairs across the whole region. The project is working to deliver conservation measures that eliminate major known threats such as illegal poisoning and electrocution in their summer breeding grounds. Monitoring the population closely using GPS transmitters will also help the project tackle the major threats Egyptian vultures face. The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE is a partnership of organisations, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds from 14 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to protect Egyptian vultures not only in Europe but all along their migratory flyway.