Black and griffon vultures discovered dead in Rhodope mountains in Bulgaria

Black and griffon vultures were discovered dead in Rhodope mountains in Bulgaria in March. So far, the causes of the two deaths of rare birds in the Greek and Bulgarian parts of the Eastern Rhodopes are not confirmed.

Rhodope mountains in Greece are home to the only Black vulture population on the Balkans.
Image: Jan Pedersen

 

Early in March a young black vulture was found near the borders of Dadia National Park, in Greece. The discovered vulture Helena, whose history we have been following since last year with the help of a GPS transmitter. Born in Dadia National Park in northern Greece in 2014, “Helena” was tagged with a GPS transmitter in 2016 by a Greek team working in the park as part of the LIFE Vultures project. Helena’s flight was the longest recorded of any black vulture tagged under the LIFE Vultures project. Last year a juvenile black vulture tagged with a GPS transmitter was found to have travelled nearly 2200 kilometres in 11  days.  Unfortunately this time the news about Helena is bad. The GPS track started sending signals from one fix which according to the experts was the first sign that there might be some problems with the bird.


A team from the Dadia nationa park directorate together with the Greek WWF Greece anti-poison dog unit with specially trained dog Kiko – visit the area in search of traces of Helena. The team encounters a heavily intersected wooded area, and for hours it traverses the last coordinates of the bird. Thanks to his considerable experience in seeking dead animals, the Kiko dog manages to smell and finds Helena’s carcass at the foot of a tree that is used by the birds for rest. According to veterinarian performing the autopsy the dead was probably due to poison incident. Samples were sent to a specialized laboratory to confirm the causes of Helena’s death, and an investigation is being conducted on the case.

Helena’s flight was the longest recorded of any black vulture tagged under the LIFE Vultures project.
Image: Sylvia Zakak

Meanwhile, an adult Griffon Vulture corpse was found in the Bulgarian part of the Eastern Rhodopes near one of the breeding colonies of the species. The Bulgarian anti-poison dog unit encountered dead vulture during regular patrol in the area. The vulture was found near an old animal carcass, which raises doubts about poisoning. The information from other tagged with GPS transmitters birds shows that other vultures have fed in the same place a few days earlier, but fortunately all of them are alive. Because of the suspicion of a crime, BSPB team sends a signal to the police and the regional environmental inspectorate that initiated an investigating. A vultures’ body was transported to the Wildlife Wildlife Rescue Center of Stara Zagora, where autopsy was performed and samples were taken for analysis. The first result of the laboratory analysis ruled out poison as cause of death. However, a second sample was sent for analysis and in a laboratory abroad. The case is still being investigated and the results of the second test for the presence of poisonous substances are expected.

Using poison baits is illegal and is being pursued by law. Poison baits are dangerous not only for vultures but can cause the deaths of wild, domestic animals and even humans. Some poisonous substances remain in the soil for a long time and can be accumulated in growing mushrooms in the area and can thus reach the human.

The enormous damage that can cause the use of poisons to nature and humans is the reason why LIFE project “Protection of Black and Griffon Vultures in the Rhodope Mountains” specifically include activities to combat illegaluse  of poisonous baits. Continuous field tours in search of poisons are carried out by the only poison control team in the country – the specially trained dog Bars and his guide Nikolay Terziev of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds.

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