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Europe’s largest vulture returns to Bulgaria’s wild Rhodope Mountains


Cinereous vultures – Europe’s largest and heaviest raptor – have been introduced again to Southern Bulgaria, with 17 birds from Spain having been transported all the way in which to the rewilding panorama of the Rhodope Mountains.

The return of cinereous vultures to the Rhodope Mountains will assist to revive the native circle of life.

Juan Carlos Muñoz / Rewilding Europe

 

Reforging the circle of life

The vultures are being briefly housed in a big, purpose-built aviary till they will lastly be launched again into the wild this autumn, when it’s hoped they are going to re-establish themselves as a keystone species inside this ecosystem. Their return guarantees to revive a significant a part of the circle of life and strengthens hopes that these big vultures could sooner or later unfold their wings throughout the breadth of Europe as soon as extra.

“That is our dream truly,” says Dobromir Dobrev, Undertaking Coordinator for Birdlife Bulgaria, a key associate of Rewilding Rhodopes. “With pure restoration of the previous breeding websites, primarily within the Balkans, these birds could be simply linked with the Alpine area after which the Iberian Peninsula. A superb instance is the griffon vulture. They’re already making these connections.”

 

Holes within the map

Cinereous vultures, often known as Eurasian black vultures, as soon as ranged from Portugal all the way in which throughout Europe, by Turkey to the excessive mountains of Kazakhstan and the Mongolian steppe. Nevertheless, like many vulture species, cinereous vultures have seen their historic vary shrink and fragment as their numbers have plummeted, with populations topic to a mix of threats together with poisoning, habitat loss, reductions within the availability of carrion, and collisions with powerlines.

At present, the European cinereous vulture inhabitants is cut up in two, divided between a inhabitants lower off within the west and one other remnant inhabitants remoted within the Balkans. “The map we see now has loads of holes,” explains Deli Saavedra, Head of Landscapes at Rewilding Europe. “Within the lowest interval, there have been 200 pairs in Spain. All the opposite European populations, aside from a small colony in Greece with round 25-30 pairs, have been extinct.”

From this historic low level within the Nineteen Seventies, the cinereous vultures have been staging a gradual restoration, aided by intensive conservation efforts. Spain now helps greater than 2500 breeding pairs, and this inhabitants has change into the supply for profitable reintroductions within the Pyrenees, the Cevennes and the French Alps. In 2018, cinereous vultures have been reintroduced to Bulgaria’s Balkan Mountains and now,  9 males and eight females have been transported from Spain to Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains, rising the possibility that in future the separate populations would possibly be a part of up once more, filling within the holes within the map.

 

 

Wild Rhodopes

The Rhodope Mountains provide a few of the finest habitat in Europe for birds of prey, supporting an unimaginable variety of raptor species. Nevertheless, earlier than the reintroduction of cinereous vultures might be contemplated, it was essential to assess why these massive vultures had disappeared within the first place, to make sure any reintroduced people wouldn’t undergo the identical destiny.

The Rhodope Mountains have already witnessed the profitable reintroduction of pink deer, fallow deer, bison, Karakachan horses and Konik ponies, whereas wolves, golden jackals, European floor squirrels (often known as sousliks) and brown bears additionally survive in these wild mountains. Nevertheless, whereas native searching concessions typically present essential refuges for wildlife, lead ammunition has traditionally created an issue for scavenging vultures, with the birds susceptible to steer poisoning.

To counter this menace, a European Group LIFE programme (LIFE Vultures) was initiated in 2016, working to encourage the transition away from poisonous lead ammunition to secure non-lead options. The rewilding workforce additionally labored with native companions to establish and mitigate different causes of vulture mortality, step by step enhancing the native availability of carrion with the re-establishment of huge native mammal populations and decreasing the danger of deadly collisions by marking energy strains. On the similar time, efforts have been made to each educate the native populace concerning the risks of poison and to step up regulation enforcement. Poison-detection canines now patrol the mountains and police and prosecutors have acquired coaching associated to its unlawful use. The programme has been a hit and as we speak, the Rhodope Mountains are prepared for the return of their largest chook of prey.

 

Red deer in the Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria
The reintroduction of pink deer, fallow deer, bison, Karakachan horses, and Konik ponies within the Rhodope Mountains has enhanced the supply of meals for birds of prey right here.

Bogdan Boev

 

A protracted journey

With all of the groundwork completed and a launch website recognized, it was time to carry the primary birds from Spain, the place Spanish NGO GREFA coordinates the rescue and rehabilitation of injured wildlife. GREFA have been capable of provide 17 cinereous vultures, 4 of which have been captive-bred, with the remaining 13 being wild birds that had been rehabilitated after harm. Their 3300km journey took 3 days to finish, with the birds fastidiously transported in particular person service packing containers, travelling firstly by van throughout Europe after which, for the ultimate leg of their journey, being carried behind a pick-up truck to a secret location in a distant nook of the Rhodope Mountains.

“We hope that the work between the organizations that promote this challenge, and the lengthy journey of those Spanish black vultures, will change into an inspiring instance of the restoration of biodiversity by worldwide cooperation,” commented Ernesto Álvarez, GREFA’s President.

After their lengthy journey, issues remained that the disturbance-sensitive birds would possibly disperse to areas the place threats nonetheless persist. There was even a fear that if the birds have been launched too quickly, they’d instantly fly again to Spain. To cut back this threat, the vultures will probably be stored in a purpose-built aviary for the primary few months, the development of which was funded with a grant from LUSH. Right here they are going to have time to familiarise themselves with their new dwelling, whereas being supplied with a dependable supply of meals, together with hares, wild ungulates, sheep and goats – precisely what they’re prone to discover for themselves as soon as launched. All through this time, the birds will probably be monitored by internet cams and human contact fastidiously prevented.

A vulture is launched into the aviary after its 3300-kilometre journey from Spain.

Kamen Kolarov

The vultures are being housed in a big, purpose-built aviary till their launch into the wild this autumn.

Kamen Kolarov

 

New neighbours

The Rhodope aviary is positioned on a ridge with clear views of the encompassing forest the place synthetic nests have been erected on prime of oak and pine timber within reach of the aviary. Cinereous vultures nest in free colonies, generally on cliffs, however extra typically on tree tops, and these synthetic nests have been erected to copy a pure colony in order to additional encourage the birds to stay within the space. They’re big buildings, every the dimensions of a double mattress, piled excessive with branches, leaves, moss and grasses, with a remaining ornamental splash of white paint added to seem like vulture droppings.

If the newly arrived cinereous vultures have already taken notice of those close by nests, they might even have forged their eager gaze upwards, the place they are going to seemingly have noticed golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and griffon vultures criss-crossing the busy skies. The griffons fill a distinct scavenger area of interest within the mountains, specialising find and consuming bigger carcasses, whereas cinereous vultures usually seek for meals at decrease altitudes, and over extra wooded nation, focusing on a wider vary of meals sources, together with smaller mammals. Cinereous vultures could even take small dwell prey, filling the same area of interest to Africa’s white-headed vulture. Extra importantly, the cinereous vultures are serving as an umbrella species, with all of the efforts made to cut back threats and acquire help from native stakeholders forward of their reintroduction additionally benefiting resident species like golden eagles and griffon vultures.

 

Suslik or European ground Squirrel, spermophilus citellus, Sakar mountains, Eastern Rhodope mountains, Bulgaria
Cinereous vultures goal a wider vary of meals sources, together with smaller mammals.

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe

 

Future hopes

Cinereous vultures solely begin to breed as soon as they attain 5 or 6 years of age, after which they lay one egg a yr. Breeding success is excessive, supplied they continue to be undisturbed, however the people that will probably be launched into the Rhodope Mountains this autumn will nonetheless want reinforcements, with the hope being that 6-10 additional people could also be added yearly for the subsequent ten years, as a part of an ongoing programme of releases. Because the colony grows, the Bulgarian birds are anticipated to mingle with the small variety of cinereous vultures surviving within the Greek a part of the Rhodope vary. And after that, the sky is the restrict!

“If we’re fortunate, we could have birds that may be a part of up with breeding populations in Turkey and in addition Western Europe,” says Dobromir. “The bigger the inhabitants the upper the possibility that these connections will probably be revived once more. That is our hope.”

 

Suslik or European ground Squirrel, spermophilus citellus, Sakar mountains, Eastern Rhodope mountains, Bulgaria
Rewilding Rhodopes and native companions made a giant effort to arrange the bottom for the spectacular comeback of the cinereous vulture to the rewilding panorama.

Kamen Kolarov

 

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