Two Egyptian Vultures released in Italy died: one was shot, the other probably poisoned

By MaghrebOrnitho | 24 September 2018

Two captive-bred Egyptian Vultures (Neophron percnopterus) released in southern Italy last August died shortly after they started their migration. One bird shot dead by an illegal hunter in western Sicily, while the other died two days after it arrived to Tunisia, probably poisoned.

The Egyptian Vulture in Italy:

Egyptian Vulture numbers have decreased by more than 80% in the last 50 years in Italy, and the species is on the verge of extinction. Its reproductive population is confined in two regions of southern Italy (Basilicata and Sicily), where there are about 6-8 breeding pairs (2018).

The new “LIFE Egyptian vulture project” (01/10/2017 – 30/09/2022) aims at improving the conservation of the Egyptian Vulture in Italy and in the Canary Islands by implementing not only measures to mitigate the impact of the negative factors affecting the species, but also direct actions to promote its demographic recovery and expansion.

This situation makes it necessary and urgent to undertake the comprehensive series of concrete actions envisaged by the “LIFE Egyptian vulture project” which, among others, includes: surveillance of nesting sites, construction and management of feeding stations, work on power lines (on supports that can cause electrocution to the detriment of the species), activities to combat the illegal use of poison. Furthermore the project will implement ex-situ reproduction and the release of individuals born in captivity with the support of the CERM (Centro Rapaci Minacciati – Endangered Raptors Centre) which has a wide experience on the issues.

The partners of the project in Italy are e-distribuzione S.p.A. (coordination), Ferderparchi-Europarc Italia, ISPRA, Basilicata region and Apulia region.

Last August two captive-bred Egyptian vultures were released in southern Italy in the framework of the “LIFE project Egyptian vulture”.

The birds, two young females, sisters, named Bianca and Clara, both born at the CERM in May 2018, were released by the “hacking” method on August 16th in the Murgia Materana Natural Park, close to the city of Matera (Basilicata region). The release was carried out by CERM and the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), with the support of several volunteers.

After five days of acclimatization spent inside a nest-box installed in the hacking site, the two Egyptian vultures wandered in the area until September 3rd, when both started migrating.

Clara shot by an illegal hunter in Sicily:

Clara reached the western part of Sicily on September 8th and one day later she was struck by a shotgun. On September 11th, her carcass was found in a vineyard by the Carabinieri Forestali of the CITES Unit of Sicily, after receiving warning from the CERM Association, ISPRA and two volunteers.

X-rays confirmed the presence of seven pellets in her body.

“This area of Sicily has always been known to be a black spot where poaching is widespread and strong, especially targeting raptors during autumn migration. The case of Clara is just the tip of a large iceberg and was revealed thanks to the GPS/GSM data-logger fixed on her back” wrote Guido Ceccolini, the president of the CERM.

Clara, a young Egyptian Vulture released in southern Italy, shot dead by an illegal hunter in western Sicily (CERM, Centro Rapaci Minacciati).

Clara, a young Egyptian Vulture released in southern Italy, shot dead by an illegal hunter in western Sicily (CERM, Centro Rapaci Minacciati).

Bianca died in Tunisia, probably due to secondary poisoning

From its release site, Bianca travelled through Sicily and then made a short visit to Pantelleria Island. From there, she flew 338 km in one flight (148 km over sea and 190 km over land) to arrive to Tunisia on September 12th.

The next day, the satellite data showed some anomalies which indicated that the bird may be in trouble. To find out what happened and try to save her if still alive, the Association CERM contacted the Association “Les Amis des Oiseaux” (AAO/BirdLife Tunisia) and asked for help. On September 14th, Hichem Azafzaf (the president of AAO) and Hedi Aissa travelled some 350 Km to the south to search Bianca. Like other similar cases, there was hope that the bird could be injured or weakened and, therefore, could still be saved. Unfortunately however, when they arrived at the GPS location, they found that Bianca was already dead. “The beak and mouth were stained with blood” noted the AAO team, who were accompanied by the local representatives of the Tunisian Forestry Administration. This suggests that the cause of death may have been secondary poisoning. AAO/BirdLife Tunisia added: “the autopsy and toxicology tests are underway and should provide information on the exact causes of death”.

The migratory route of Bianca, a young Egyptian Vulture released in southern Italy, and found dead in Tunisia (CERM, Centro Rapaci Minacciati).

The migratory route of Bianca, a young Egyptian Vulture released in southern Italy, and found dead in Tunisia (CERM, Centro Rapaci Minacciati).

Bianca, a young Egyptian Vulture released in southern Italy, and found dead in Tunisia. Secondary poisoning is the probable cause of her death (Hichem Azafzaf / Association "Les Amis des Oiseaux" (AAO)).

Bianca, a young Egyptian Vulture released in southern Italy, and found dead in Tunisia. Secondary poisoning is the probable cause of her death (Hichem Azafzaf / Association “Les Amis des Oiseaux” (AAO)).

Conclusion:

The conservation of migratory birds is very complex, but it should not be like that: there should be as much as conservation actions in the wintering areas and along the migratory route as in the breeding areas. Work done in just one area of the species’ range could be jeopardized in other areas. These two cases and other examples from the literature demonstrate this very well.

Thanks to Guido Ceccolini for contributing to this story!

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