The Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) one of the largest birds on our continent was once widespread all over Europe. But sadly now it has become extinct in most of its European breeding range with Spain being the only country left with a sizeable and healthy population.
The situation is no different in the Balkans where only a handful of small isolated colonies remain including the single Bulgarian colony located in the Eastern Rodopi Mountains near Madjaravo. About 100 birds live here and thanks to the conservation efforts of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) the colony is now relatively safe and protected. But even though the future for the colony looks bright especially since a second colony naturally formed c.20km away from the main one the population here is still very small with just 32 breeding pairs.
With the large historical declines throughout Europe, including the Balkans, in mind several organisations joined together to form the Balkan Vulture Action Plan (BVAP). The aim of the action plan is to co-ordinate the efforts of the various conservation groups in the Balkans and to restore the populations of all 4 European vulture species in the Balkans.
A key component of the action plan is the re-introduction of vultures in several areas where they formerly bred but are unlikely to colonise in the near future due to their critically low population levels. The aim is to re-introduce the species in several different locations to form a Meta-population all over the Balkans.
The Eastern Balkan Mountains near Kotel is an ideal place for the re-introduction of Griffon Vultures. The species became extinct here at the end of the 1960′s because of the mass use of Strychnine poison for predator control which caused secondary poisoning of the vultures feeding on the poison baits. The law thankfully now forbids this practice and gives full protection to the vultures and their breeding sites. The disappearance of the reasons for the vultures decline as well as suitable breeding and foraging habitats is what makes Kotel Mountain such a good site for re-introduction.
Since 2003 FWFF has been working in this region to prepare for their planned re-introduction of Griffon Vultures. They started an eco farm which practices traditional shepherding techniques in the area to help restore the natural pastoral habitats to provide a better food source for the vultures. They’ve also carried out some low level education work and addressed the issues of local stakeholders so that local people are now generally in favour of the re-introduction.
Part of the work also included building an acclimatization aviary and sourcing 5 Griffon Vultures for the preliminary release. In March 2006 BVAP’s re-introduction committee, which consists of experts from all over Europe, visited Kotel and recommended that re-introduction begin immediately. This means Kotel Mountain will the first place in the Balkans where an extinct vulture species will be restored and this all thanks to the tireless work of the FWFF team.
The first 3 birds were released on the 28/08/2007 as part of an experimental release.
To learn more for the ongoing LIFE+ project, please vist http://www.greenbalkans.org/birdsofprey/life/