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July – Month of the Griffon Vulture

July – Month of the Griffon Vulture

31.07.2019
In July we will tell you more about griffon vultures, also known as ‘nature’s cleaners'!
Just like all creatures, vultures have their special place in nature and ecosystems. People often call them ‘nature’s cleaners’ because of their unique role to prevent the spread of deceases by eating the dead animals. Like all vultures, griffons have very low stomach pH, which helps them kill off all bacteria, growing on the rotting meat (Cramp & Simmons 1980).
In the middle of the 20th century the species disappeared from our country, but in the middle of the 70’s it returned to the Eastern Rhodope mountains, along the Arda river - between Kardzhali and the villages around Madzharovo. In 1978 there was one breeding pair; 1-4 nests until 1985; 36 nests in 2005. The species can be observed in South Bulgaria, migrating along the Black sea coast (3-5 individuals observed) and in the Sofia Plain.
The griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus Hablizl, 1783) is a very large and impressive bird. The back and wings are sandy gray, and the wing and tail feathers are black. The head is covered with a rare light fluff, the neck has a characteristic continuous "collar" of fluffy white feathers.
The species in Bulgaria is categorized as Endangered (Golemanski et al., 2011), listed in Annex II and III of the Biological Diversity Act.
The griffon vulture inhabits vast rock-bound regions, gorges, river valleys and mountains up to the sub-alpine belt. The species nests in rock cavities. It is settled at variable altitudes, sometimes up to 1600-1800 meters, but usually,  griffons are found at about 1000-1300 meters. Griffon vultures prefer warmer climate, avoiding forests, wetlands, lakes and seas.
These vultures are usually monogamous and the couples usually stay together for a lifetime. They nest in colonies of about 15-20 pairs, but they can go up to 100 pairs.
The female lays a single egg which is hatched for 48-54 days.
Griffons feed on carrion, mainly soft tissue – muscle and guts of medium to large mammals. The birds fly over large territories in search of food individually, but each individual also follows its surrounding neighbors.
Despite its large size, the griffon vulture faces many threats. Due to its large range and the big population, the species is not considered endangered. However, it faces the same threats as other birds of prey, such as poison baits practices against large predators like wolves and jackals, decrease of food sources due to the changes in agricultural practices, collision with powerlines and electric pylons, poaching and disturbance.
In 2017 the newly reintroduced colony of griffon vultures in the Kresna gorge was almost entirely wiped out due to a poisoning incident.


The Green Balkans conservation program for the protection of vultures, started back in 1991, includes:
- Exploring possible suitable regions for vulture reintroduction;
- Supplementary feeding stations in Eastern and Western Rhodope mountains and Eastern Stara Planina mountain;
- Installing artificial nests;
- A national anti-poisoning campaign;
- Stimulating extensive farming within the target regions;
- Protecting and restoring priority habitats;
- Information campaigns;
- Telemetric tracking of vultures, fitted with transmitters;
- Developing plans and strategies for vulture reintroduction in Bulgaria.

 
In 2003 a long-term International Action Plan for the Recovery and Conservation of Vultures on the Balkan Peninsula was initiated and in 2010 the “Recovery of the populations of large European vultures in Bulgaria” LIFE08 NAT/BG/000278 LIFE project, executed by the Green Balkans NGO in partnership with the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) and the Birds of Prey Protection Society (BPPS), completed in 2015. For the project duration, a total of 264 griffon vultures were transported from Spain and France, and 205 of them were released through the adaptation aviaries in Vrachanski Balkan, Central Balkan, Sinite kamani – Grebenets and Kotlenska planina regions. As a result of the reintroduction program, in 2015, after a 50 year absence, the griffon vulture returned as a nesting species in the ‘Vrachanski Balkan’ Nature Park. In 2019 there are 3 established colonies with 14 breeding pairs and 4 pairs showing nesting behavior. In the Eastern Stara Planina region (Kotel and ‘Sinite kamani’ Nature Park) the nesting population for 2019 is between 12-20 pairs with 2 nesting pairs observed in the Kresna Gorge. After the successful reintroduction of the griffon vulture in the target areas since 2010, the number of the breeding pairs has gone up to 27-40 pairs.

The griffon vulture is a target species of the Natura 2000 ecological network under the Birds Directive.

How can I help?
  •  You can contact us for any dead farm animals that can be used for feeding the vultures!
  •  Contacts us if you see a griffon vulture, especially if the bird is marked with a bird ring or a wingtag!
  •  Contacts us if you know of or witness any illegal actions (shooting), or find wounded or dead griffon vultures or other large birds of prey.
  •  Do not disturb griffon vultures in nature.
  •  Do not disturb birds in the aviaries or at the feeding stations.
  •  Contact us if you want to participate in the different activities for the protection of the species.
  •  Join the information campaigns popularizing the species. Find out more here.
  •  Donate for the species protection. Find out more in the Donations section.

Contacts:
Ivelin Ivanov – Manager of the activities for the griffon vulture – mob.number 0887 589995; e-mail: iivanov@greenbalkans.org
Elena Stoeva – ‘Natura 2000 in Bulgaria – New Horizons’ project manager  - mob.number: 0887574699, e-mail: etilova@greenbalkans.org