Young griffon vulture fitted with satellite transmitters died in South Sudan

Zdravе, the first Bulgarian Griffon Vulture, whose flight we followed all the way to South Sudan in Africa, died. The young traveler had an interesting but unfortunately short life.

Curious young griffon vulture tagged with wing tags caught on phototrap.

When LIFE vultures team first encountered Zdrave she was a sick chick that was later treated in the nest. The young bird quickly recovered from the disease and in no time crossed 4000 km reaching South Sudan. While there is a chance that other Griffon Vultures from the Balkans have reached this part of the Black Continent,this remains the first documented visit.  Thanks to the help of the new technologies, we followed in detail and in real time journey of the young researcher. The young bird was fitted with transmitter this summer within the project “Conservation of Black and Griffon Vultures in the Rhodope Moutians” implemented by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation from the Bulgarian side.

Zdrave passed Sahara dessertn in just for 4 days and reached Sudan. During the journey, Zdrave passed 3 continents and 7 countries.
Zdrave passed Sahara dessertn in just for 4 days and reached Sudan. During the journey, Zdrave passed 3 continents and 7 countries.

The first meeting of the BSPB team with the young vulture was not very promising; they could hardly imagine what was to follow. Zdrave was one of the young birds that LIFE Vultures team members planned to equip with satellite transmitter early in the summer. This turned out to be a strenuous task, requiring much more time and efforts. The first visit to the you chick’s nest was fruitless as Zdrave weighted barely five kilos, way less than normal weight. The team waited for another week while monitoring the young bird remotely to make sure the chick’s parents provide enough food. It turns out that parents regularly feed the little one and it didn’t suffer from malnutrition which was one of the possible reasons. At the second visit to the nest, it was found that Zdrave did not gain any weight since the first visit. The team took  action and contacted the Green Balkans Rescue Center. As a result the team started treating the young vultures in the the nest and was given  vitamins and drugs against internal parasites. After a short treatment, the young vulture gained two kilograms for just a week. Soon after the recovery, the vulture was named Zdrave (Zdrave means Health in Bulgarian)  and marked with a satellite transmitter, which allowed us to trace his life closely.

The tracking device was attached only a few days before the young Griffon vulture flew for the first time from its nest in the region of Madzharovo, the Eastern Rhodopes; a week later than the other vultures same age. The late start was soon all was well in the past and Zdrave undertook a long jounrey. In September, the young vulture followe the Egyptian vultures Via Pontica migratory corridor reaching Turkey, crossing the Bosphorus and heading for the Middle East. Often young Griffon Vultures from the Balkans reach Israel and the Middle East, but Zdraved surprised everyone on entering Egypt. Zdrave passed Sahara dessertn in just for 4 days and reached Sudan. During the journey, Zdrave passed 3 continents and 7 countries. After spending a month in Sudan, at the end of November Zdarve headed south again and reached South Sudan. Only a week later, the vulture’s transmitter began sending signals from one position in a wooded savannah; away from any human settlements.

The satellite transmitter began sending signals from one position in a wooded savannah; away from any human settlements.
The satellite transmitter began sending signals from one position in a wooded savannah; away from any human settlements.

“It is possible that the transmitter has fallen, but the bird is much more likely to have died,” said Volen Arkumarev of BSPB. „We can only guess the reasons for the death; electrocution  seems unlikely cause because there is no electricity poles in the area, and the area is quite woody with very suitable places for landing and rest”, added the expert. The bird maight have been poisoned or caught by local residents. The team attempts to contact local authorities or environmentalists to visit the place but the area is very difficult to access, military conflicts so  the chances are very small.

Unlike other birds with a strong instinct for migration, such as White Stork, Griffon Vultures adhere to the breeding colony throughout the year, with only young birds roaming. This behavior of young people carries risks: about 70% of the species mortality occurs at this age when vultures cross unsuitable areas alone without colony assistance and have difficulty finding food. Satellite tracking allows the experts to easily determine the location of the monitored vultures, improves knowledge of their distribution, movements, threats, mortality of these birds, and possible conservation measures to prevent these threats.

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