The Egyptian vulture, the only regular long distance migratory vulture in Europe, was once the source of myths and local folklore in the Balkans and revered as a sacred bird in parts of Africa. But due to lots of various threats like poisoning, direct persecution and nest robbery, disturbance during breading, electrocution by dangerous powerlines, and others, the Egyptian vulture is now on the edge of extinction. The only effective way to save this charismatic species is through multi-national and multi-institutional collaboration.
In 2011, four partners: Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) / BirdLife Greece; WWF Greece, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) / BirdLife Bulgaria; and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) / BirdLife UK joined forces to halt the decline of the Egyptian vulture population in the Balkans. Recognising the specific requirements of this long-distance migrant, the partners also took steps to broaden their cross-border approach to other countries along the species’ flyway.
Partners invested in efforts to stop the illegal trade of Egyptian vultures and eggs in the Balkans. A total of 178 Custom Officers were trained in Greece and Bulgaria, while international cooperation at the level of INTERPOL and international customs authorities was promoted. As a direct result of these efforts, a renowned poacher was convicted and given a prison sentence in Bulgaria.
Intense capacity building and networking in Bulgaria also helped 1400 farmers to apply for agri-environment payments and thus nearly 100,000 ha of pastures within the Natura 2000 network are now being managed for the benefit of the Egyptian vulture and other wildlife. In addition, networking with public and private electricity transmission companies has resulted in the insulation of over 400 dangerous electricity pylons in both Greece and Bulgaria.
At an international level, the project has succeeded in achieving a very fruitful cross- border collaboration. The clearest example is the successful development of the Flyway Action Plan for the Conservation of the Balkan and Central Asian Populations of Egyptian Vulture (EVFAP) which is a key element of the Convention of Migratory Species’ Vulture’s Multi-Species Action Plan. This document is the culmination of over two years of work and collaboration of 26 countries along the flyway of the species and many experts and is expected to be vital for the future of the species.
Another successful example of cross-border cooperation with local institutions (the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI)) was the discovery of a yet unidentified threat to the Egyptian vulture. In some parts of Africa (Niger, Nigeria), vultures were being killed to use their body parts in traditional medicine. An even more impressive achievement was the decommissioning and replacement of a power line in Sudan, known to have electrocuted hundreds and perhaps thousands of individuals since its construction in the 1950s.
It is evident that only extensive local and national networking and international collaboration could deliver the successful results listed above.