First Balkan Griffon Vulture to use GPS tag to track illegal wildlife poisoning

First Balkan Griffon Vulture to use GPS tag to track illegal wildlife poisoning

The first griffon vulture in Bulgaria was equipped with a GPS tag as part of the BalkanDetox LIFE project for a very special reason – to track and combat illegal incidents of poisoning in the Balkans. Using GPS technology, the project team can quickly find and rescue poisoned vultures while helping them track down criminals to minimize the extent and scope of this harmful practice in seven Balkan countries!

On Tuesday, January 2, 2021, a BalkanDetox LIFE team equipped a griffon vulture with a GPS tag in the Kresna Gorge, the first as part of the new LIFE-funded project. The Wild Flora and Fauna Fund (FWFF) team that tagged the griffon vulture named the person “EXTREME” not only because of the EX wing tag, but also because it was perhaps the liveliest bird they have come across . It is normal for Griffon Vultures to act aggressively when captured, but this person was an exceptional case. “EXTREME” hatched in 2019 due to the moulting of its feathers and comes from the Balkan population. The project team would like to mark several griffon vultures in the Kresna Gorge, as many birds that winter in the region come from Croatia, Serbia and the Republic of North Macedonia.

Griffon Vulture, Copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries

Local conservationists have been equipping Griffon Vulture and other vulture species in Bulgaria and other Balkan countries with GPS tags for years. So why is this a big deal?

GPS tracking is an innovative tool for tracking illegal wildlife poisoning

Griffon vultures are social birds that search in groups and quickly spot animal carcasses by following visual cues with their incredible eyesight. This ability enables them to consume carcasses quickly and efficiently, providing environmental benefits for nature, other wildlife, and humans. However, it also means that if a carcass is poisoned, many griffon vultures can only be wiped out by a single incident of poisoning.

The new BalkanDetox LIFE project, led by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), aims to combat illegal wildlife poisoning in the Balkans by building capacity and raising awareness. This is achieved, among other things, through the use of GPS tracking. Suppose a bird’s temperature drops or it has been immobile for a long time. When this happens, GPS tags alert conservationists that something is wrong with the bird so they can quickly check the bird in the field to save vultures and other affected wildlife. If vultures are illegally poisoned, an investigation can be initiated. Tracking vultures’ GPS movements helped identify criminals and enforce convictions, preventing similar cases from reoccurring.

To effectively monitor griffon vultures and track poisoning, at least five birds must be tagged in each colony. The project will equip 25 griffon vultures with GPS tags in a revolutionary initiative to intensively monitor bird behavior and combat threats from wildlife such as poisoning in a timely manner and to adequately monitor all major vulture colonies in seven Balkan countries. The project will further develop an app that also contains data from previously tagged vultures so that all partners can monitor the vultures’ movements and behavior and thus effectively combat illegal poisoning of wild animals – the greatest threat to vultures!