In September 2020Anahita, the three-month-old Egyptian vulture neophron percnopterus, left the Balkans on her first migration trip. We know this because she was wearing a satellite tag attached by BSPB (BirdLife in Bulgaria). At the same time as the tag was attached, BSPB gave Anahita’s parents a foster chick, Neli, which was hatched into captivity from their breeding program to further strengthen the endangered species * population.
Anahita, named after the ancient Persian goddess of fertility, water, healing and wisdom, started confidently. Within a few days she was spotted by Doğa Derneği (BirdLife in Turkey) when she fell over her observation post. Doğa Derneği emailed BSPB confirming that everything was OK. Everything looked like she would arrive in sub-Saharan Africa in time for winter.
But on the sixth day of their trip in a village west of Lebanon, the tracker suddenly went silent. BSPB staff watched with sinking hearts as the tag stopped broadcasting for a while before being moved to a location 300 meters away – a tell-tale sign that Anahita had likely been shot.
BSPB desperately contacted SPNL (BirdLife in Lebanon). Adonis Khatib, head of the SPNL’s anti-poaching unit, acted quickly alongside the security forces. As he drove across the country, he arrived in the village just in time: Anahita had been badly shot with a broken wing and a body riddled with 13 pellets – but she was alive. She was also cared for by the young son of the man who found her and was trying to feed her a dead snake.
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Khatib took the sick Anahita to a veterinarian and then to the nearest suitable animal shelter: an aviary, with which SPNL usually raised and released the little Serch Serin Serinus syriacus (Vulnerable), a little finch. The staff quickly rebuilt the aviary to care for a larger bird, and Anahita began to recover.
Soon news of Anahita’s story spread across social media. People reached out to SPNL and asked them to help other migratory birds that had been shot down – including cranes, black kites Milvus Migrans, and a pelican. Two cranes joined Anahita in the aviary, one of which has already been released into the wild. Inspired by this, SPNL is now transforming the aviary into a bird rescue center with the help of BSPB in order to professionally care for more migratory birds.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Anahita would never fly again. But their story – and their journey – doesn’t end there. According to her namesake, the goddess of fertility, she will soon be returning to Bulgaria, where she will join the BSPB captive breeding program and hatch the next generation of Egyptian vultures. When you have friends watching over you, you don’t always need wings to fly.
* Doğa Derneği is part of the Egyptian Vulture: New LIFE project, a partnership with the Hellenic Ornithological Society (BirdLife in Greece), RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), BirdLife Africa and BirdLife Middle East to protect the species at every step of the migration journey.