In the Balkans, birds face a wide variety of risks. Our partner, BSPB – the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, is taking action to protect our feathered friends. This is their story.
Located between the Middle East and Europe, the Balkans is a rich crossroads of peoples and cultures, but also a bottleneck of bad practices related to wildlife. This is driven not only by its geography, which favours trafficking, but also by the socio-economic situation in the region. The low incomes, political instability and poor law enforcement, combined with the traditions to expose stuffed and wild caught cage birds in restaurants and hotels, all significantly contribute to the problem. Even though it’s not so widespread, nest robbing for private collections can also damage bird populations, especially if it concerns rare and endangered species. Because of these destructive and illegal activities, iconic birds such as the Saker Falcon are on the brink of extinction in Bulgaria.
At the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), we have been striving to protect our feathered friends over the last 30 years. Here are a few highlights of what we do to save birds.
After Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, we engaged the authorities by increasing their capacity and helping them enforce legislation. Hundreds of employees from the relevant Ministries, police, border checkpoints, and prosecution were trained in different mitigation measures and best practices. A handbook for the prevention of bird trafficking was published, and soon after, it was adapted for neighbouring countries (Greece, North Macedonia and Albania).
Later, in 2009, satellite transmitters were deployed to study the mortality factors of seven young Eastern Imperial Eagles in Bulgaria. After only two years, out of the seven birds, only one was still alive. It miraculously managed to avoid electrocution with powerlines, shooting and other threats along its perilous journey from Syria to Ukraine. But was it a real survivor?
Unfortunately not: in 2011, pigeon fanciers from Central Bulgaria killed the bird using poisoned pigeon as bait. The conflict between people and raptors runs deep in the Balkans. Over here, pigeon keeping is a very widespread hobby, and birds of prey are killed because of it every year. In 2014, another Eastern Imperial Eagle with a broken leg, wing and four shots in its body was rescued by Green Balkans. Tagged and released, after less than a year the bird was shot again – this time, fatally.
Many British people are buying houses in Bulgaria to enjoy its nature, but not Mr. R. In 2014, the Burgas District Court filed a case against him for robbing the eggs of protected birds for his personal collection. After investigation, his diaries revealed over a thousand robbed eggs from more than 600 nests!
These included robberies of nests from the globally endangered Egyptian Vulture and the Eastern Imperial Eagle, as well as highly protected and rare species in Bulgaria such as the Griffon vulture, Red-footed falcon, Black stork, Lesser spotted eagle, Montagu’s harrier, Long-legged buzzard, Collared pratincole and many other species. All of these eggs are now part of his enormous illegal egg collection. Although the process took nearly three years, the penalty was negligible and no charges were brought for most of the eggs, this was the first ever case in the Bulgarian courts for illegal egg collection. The international investigation was strongly supported by the British Police, Interpol, RSPB and BSPB.
Bulgaria is also a transit country for the trafficking of exotic species such as the African Grey parrot. In 2010, 108 African Grey Parrots were confiscated at Sofia Airport. On 8 March 2013, three years later, thanks to the collaboration between many organisations and institutions (BBF, World Parrot Trust, Sofia Zoo), the remaining 32 birds that survived so far have been sent back and released in Uganda. However, 76 other birds did not make it… The African Grey Parrot is a globally endangered species, whose survival is threatened by illegal trafficking. This is the first time that African Grey parrots confiscated in Europe have been returned to their native habitats. Now these parrots are flying free in the sky over Africa.
Overall, it might be that the Balkans is a hidden black spot for trafficking and the illegal persecution of birds, but we lack evidence. This is why we are upgrading the free smartphone application SmartBirds Pro which collects data on different threats, including bird crime, and translating it into different languages. This app is a user-friendly and powerful tool in the hands of professionals and amateurs to collect the information needed to clearly identify threats against birds and take action.