Griffon vultures occurred once upon a time in all mountain ranges across the northern and southern Mediterranean, but local extirpations led to their regional or local extinction in many places and countries. A few scattered populations remained in the Balkans, and in Iberia and the Pyrenees. In western Iberia griffon numbers have rebound in the last 20 years to reach peak numbers (e.g. 25,000 pairs in Spain alone), while reintroductions in France and Italy also re-established the species in those countries. In south-eastern Europe the widely scattered populations (from Croatia to Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece) are now also starting to show the first signs of recovery, but until recently the Alpine gap prevented mixing.
With the growing populations in Spain and France, more and more western European griffons started to appear in the Alps – primarily in the western alps, but all the way to the eastern alps, some even showing up in Croatia. Now, a griffon vulture ringed in Spain has been found dead in Bulgaria, further evidence of mixing of populations in Europe, and a good sign for the restoration of the original metapopulation.
Here´s the story: On December 18th last year members of a local hunting group brought the carcass of a griffon vulture found dead near the town of Ugarchin to the Regional Inspectorate of Environment and Waters in Pleven. The bird had a plastic yellow ring with code 8A6.
Some research revealed that this bird has been ringed in Spain. Hatched in 2007, it was found weakened, probably because of malnutrition, soon after. Following a successful rehabilitation in a specialized centre, it was released with rings and wing tags on 18 December 2007 (precisely 10 years before being found in Bulgaria!!!) in Villanueva de Argaño (Burgos province), Spain, about 2300 km from Bulgaria.
The bird had been observed only once since being released, on the 16th October 2010 in France, and we also now know that in October last year the same bird was photographed at the supplementary feeding site of Kresna by colleagues from the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna. However, the ring was not read well then and the vulture was not fully identified.
The necropsy, carried out at the Wildlife Rescue Centre of Green Balkans, could not clarify the cause of death, although the suspicion is that the bird has suffocated due to lung failure. No traces of pellets, fractures, electrocution or poison were found in the carcass.
This is the first confirmed case of a bird tagged in Spain reaching Bulgaria, although one of the griffons released in Bulgaria within the reintroduction project there has been observed in France.