Results from the release of captive-bred Egyptian Vultures in the Eastern Rhodopes in 2018

06.12.2018

© Volen Arkumarev

This year, under the “Egyptian Vulture New LIFE” project three methods were applied for the release of captive-bred Egyptian Vultures to strengthen the endangered population of the species on the Balkans - delayed release, fostering and hacking. The aim is to release at least 10 individuals per release technique in the next 5 years of the project implementation. All three release methods will be implemented in the same area which will allow direct comparison of the results. The results from this action will be used to prioritize the future conservation work, to build and implement a successful restocking program to reinforce and boost the recovery of the Egyptian Vulture population on the Balkans.
 

The start of the pilot restocking program was launched in March in the Eastern Rhodopes by a team of BSPB and Green Balkans with the first method - delayed release. Four captive-bred Egyptian Vultures - Akaga, Boyana, Polya and Panteley, hatched and raised in the zoos in Prague and Jerez, Spain, were preparing for nearly two months to live in the wild in a special adaptation aviary. They successfully adapted to the local conditions. This was proved by the records of feeding on natural carcasses outside the feeding station. They were interacting and socializing well with the other Egyptian Vultures on the feeding station. All four released vultures initiated migration but they started on different dates and were migrating alone. Akaga started migration first and used the traditional migration route through Turkey and Middle East to reach Ethiopia. Polya, Boyana and Panteley started migration in late September. Polya migrated through the Greek islands reaching Crete and later again using the islands as stepping stones she reached southern Turkey and continued following the migration route through Middle East to reach Sudan. Boyana moved southwest from the release site and migrated through Greece crossing the Mediterranean Sea between Peloponnese and Libya. Panteley used similar migration route as Boyana and reached Peloponnese but he didn’t try to cross the sea towards Africa and currently is on the island of Crete.
 

Accordingto the criteria for success this year’s experiment to release captive bred Egyptian Vulture through delayed release is successful as 100% of the released individuals adapted successfully to the wild and 80% of them completed their first migration successfully. It is still unclear whether Panteley will overwinter in Greece or will try to reach Africa on a later stage.
 

One captive-bred Egyptian Vulture chick (Blanka) was fostered in a wild nest in the Eastern Rhodopes. The first attempt was made at 16 days age and was unsuccessful due to aggression from the captive-bred towards the wild chick. A second attempt was made when Blanka was 60 days old. She was accepted by the parents and the wild sibling named Belgin. Both chicks successfully fledged. Blanka adapted well to the local conditions and before migrating she was feeding at the vulture feeding station together with other Egyptian Vultures. During migration Blanka used the traditional migration route through Turkey and Middle Еast, then through the eastern Red Sea flyway reached her wintering grounds in Ethiopia. Belgin also started his migration through Turkey but when reaching the Adrasan Peninsula, he initiated a sea crossing. No more data was received from his transmitter and we consider him drowned into the sea. Blanka unfortunately died in the wintering grounds in Afar, Ethiopia. The reason for her death is unclear but it seems most probable that she was injured by human or animal attack and consequently died of her injuries or exhaustion.
 

Even though Blanka died in Africa the fostering in 2018 is successful because Blanka was accepted by the wild parent, she fledged, adapted well to the wild, survived the first month after fledging and the first migration.
 

In August 2018 two captive-bred Egyptian Vultures were released in the Eastern Rhodopes through hacking – Anna and Zikmund. Both chicks fledged successfully from the hack. They learned how to fly and were feeding on the food provided near and inside the hack. However, none of them visited the feeding station near the hack and was observed to exploit natural food resources. Zikmund was captured due to his unusual behavior and didn’t show any fear from humans and settlements. The reason for this unusual behavior is that he was hand fed for about two weeks at very early age and was imprinted to people. Anna started fall migration but was found exhausted in south Turkey. Probably she couldn’t adapt well to the wild and was not able to find food.
 

Zikmund was excluded from the sample size and the analyses for the success of this method because his behavior was altered due to imprinting. Even though Anna survived the first month after the release, during the migration she fell exhausted showing signs of bad adaptation to the wild and she couldn’t complete her first south migration. Due to these facts the hacking in 2018 is unsuccessful.
 

All birds are donated to the project with the assistance of Anton Vaidl - coordinator of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and with the assistance of VCF.
 

Find the report “DEVELOP AND PILOT A RESTOCKING STRATEGY FOR EGYPTIAN VULTURES ON THE BALKANS” here.

 

The LIFE project "Egyptian Vulture New LIFE” (LIFE16 NAT/BG/000874) brings together institutions and organizations from 14 countries spanning the Balkans, Middle East and Africa and is implemented with the financial support of the EU LIFE Programme. The Coordinating Beneficiary is the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds / BirdLife Bulgaria (BSPB). Associated Beneficiaries are:  Hellenic Ornithological Society / BirdLife Greece (HOS),  WWF Greece, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds / BirdLife UK (RSPB), Doğa Derneği / BirdLife Turkey (DD), regional offices of BirdLife International in Africa and Middle East, A.P. Leventis Ornithological and Research Institute (APLORI), CMS Raptors MoU, Green Balkans.

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LIFE project Egyptian vulture New LIFE, fostering, hacking, EAZA, BSPB, Green Balkans, delayed release