​10 years new history for the Griffon Vulture in Stara Planina

October 27 marks exactly 10 years since the beginning of the Griffon Vulture release in Stara planina. With the start of the releases a major level of the species recovery plan in this part of Bulgaria was reached.

A common and widespread species until the middle of 20th century in Bulgaria, the Griffon Vulture went completely extinct in the 1970s. At the end of this period a small colony of the species recovered in the Eastern Rhodopes, where as a result of long-term and purposeful measures the colony reached 50-60 pairs by 2010. Despite the increase in numbers, the species only nested in the valley of the Arda River in Eastern Rhodopes and failed to settle in the north in the Balkan Mountains.  Therefore, a targeted release of individuals and planned reintroduction through import of birds from the large and growing populations of the species in Spain and France was necessary. Special regions were selected for which there was evidence that the species has nested in the past. An initiator organization for each site was appointed that would undertake the activities.  For Vrachanski Balkan this was the Birds of Prey Protection Society (BPPS), for Eastern Stara Planina - “Sinite kamani” Nature Park - Green Balkans, for Kotel - The Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna /FWFF/, for Central Balkan – the BPPS and Green Balkans worked together. All activities were supported by the administrations of the respective park directorates - “Vrachanski Balkan” Nature Park, “Sinite kamani” Nature Park, “Central Balkan” National Park.

On October 27, after long preparatory activities, including construction of feeding sites, aviaries, creation and training of local teams, etc., the first releases of Griffon Vultures took place. After a number of challenges and disappointments, birds gradually began to adapt to the wild and year after year their numbers were increasing. In the selected areas, vultures managed to adapt successfully, behave more naturally and even managed to attract birds from the natural Balkan population.

In 2012, another huge success for the reintroduction program of the species in Stara Planina was accomplished - the first laid egg in Eastern Stara Planina! Unfortunately, a few more years would be necessary before the successfulhatching of a baby chick. In 2015, this happened for the first time in Vrachanski Balkan, and in 2016 in Eastern Stara Planina.

At the end of the tenth year since the beginning of the Griffon Vulture local reintroductions, we are pleased to note that the species is successfully recovered in the region with 15 to 18 pairs nesting in Vrachanski Balkan, 18 to 23 pairs in Eastern Stara Planina, and local colonies numbering up to 50 to 70 and 80 to 100 birds respectively.  

Over the years, problems weren’t lacking, such as the frequent loss of birds killed by electrocution due to landing on unsafe electric pylons ; the poisoning of a large number of the colony in Vrachanski Balkan in September 2019. As a result of all these difficulties and other obstacles, from a leading place for Griffon Vulture reintroduction Vrachanski Balkan became one of the last in number of birds (probably the colony there would have reached 20-25 nesting pairs at present).

The successful recovery of the Griffon Vulture in Stara Planina is one of the greatest nature conservation achievements in Bulgaria, giving us a reason to start the restoration of the Black Vulture, as well as to plan the same for the Bearded Vulture - the symbol of Bulgarian nature conservation!

On November 7, 2020, Sofia University will hold an International Scientific Conference on Restoration of Conservation-Reliant Species and Habitats - an initiative inspired by the success of the reintroduction of the Griffon Vulture in Stara Planina and the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the initiative. There will be scientific reports presenting the achievements so far, among other similar accomplishments of modern Bulgarian nature conservation.

The  recovery of the species was possible thanks to the constant support of many experts, organizations and donors from Bulgaria and Europe. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to this great success for Bulgarian nature protection and to wish this to be one of many future successes for nature conservation!

Additional information:
Ivelin Ivanov - "Bright Future for Black Vulture" LIFE14 NAT/BG/000649 project manager
mobile phone: +359887589995, email: iivanov@greenbalkans.org

Green Balkans
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