A recent poisoning incident in the Republic of North Macedonia put the local Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) population in imminent danger. Luckily, the local partners of the BalkanDetox LIFE project, the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) together with the relevant authorities responded swiftly, and saved the lives of 18 Griffon Vultures scavenging in the area.
Poisoning incident detected in a biodiversity hotspot
A couple of weeks ago, MES received a call concerning a massive poisoning of dogs in the village Vitolishte, located in the region Mariovo. With the possibility that the poison was still present in the area, this presented a serious threat to the village population, as well as the surrounding wildlife. Mariovo’s biodiversity is exceptionally rich but unfortunately threatened by these poisoning incidents. MES took immediate action. After receiving the news, they contacted the authorities that began the investigation around the incident, as well as the non-harmful removal of the poisoned dogs.
In the meantime, the situation became much more serious as they learned that two Griffon Vultures monitored with GPS transmitters were preparing to land in the area where the poison was located. The two vultures are part of the ongoing BalkanDetox LIFE project’s to track poisoning incidents, save poisoned wildlife and prosecute wildlife criminals by tagging and monitoring Griffon Vulture colonies in the Balkans.
Since Griffon Vultures are social birds and often fly in flocks, the number of vultures present in the area was suspected to be higher than two. If the Griffon Vultures reached the poisoned animals, it could wipe out the species from North Macedonia. MES contacted the local border police and informed them of the potential catastrophe. They soon sent out a team to the location where the Griffon Vultures landed to drive them away before they could feed on the poisoned animals. After one hour of trying, the police were successful in their efforts and the 18 vultures in the vicinity of the area left unharmed.
On the same day, a team from MES arrived in Vitolishte with to ensure that there would be no further poisoning in the area. With support from the municipality of Prilep, an inspection team from the Ministry of Interior Affairs and a communal inspector arrived in Vitolishte to investigate the event and ensure that appropriate measures were taken to clear up the case. They carried out a field inspection around the area and, fortunately, did not find any poisoned wildlife. They further informed the public prosecutor of the event, and hopefully, an adequate investigation led by the authorities will follow soon
Illegal Wildlife Poisoning remains vultures’ biggest threat
Illegal wildlife poisoning continues to be the biggest threat to the survival of vultures in North Macedonia and throughout the Balkan Peninsula. In fact, a study estimated that within the last 20 years, 2,300 vultures have died because of poisoning in the Balkans. Due to this illegal practice, both the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and the Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) became extinct in North Macedonia. Additionally, the use of poison has led to the decline of the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Griffon Vulture populations to just a couple of nesting pairs.
According to MES’ last census, only 24 Griffon Vultures were present in North Macedonia. Essentially this means that if actions were not taken as fast as they were during the recent poisoning incident, their population could have been depleted beyond repair.
The BalkanDetox LIFE project plays an important role in the fight against wildlife poisoning in the region as it strengthens national capacities and raises awareness about the problem across Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, the Republic of North Macedonia and Serbia. It is a five-year endeavour led by the Vulture Conservation Foundation with a €1.8 million budget funded from the EU’s LIFE Programme, the MAVA Foundation and Euronatur.