Flying into danger

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  07. 09. 2019

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day. This was foreshadowed by the news on Tuesday that a female Egyptian Vulture, which had been hatched at Zlín Zoo and placed in an artificial nest in the Bulgarian mountains at the beginning of August, had passed away. She flew into some power lines on her very first flight and died.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

This is the fourth year that we have released Egyptian Vultures in Bulgaria. The aim is to strengthen the moribund population of this species. So far seventeen “Egyptians” from zoos or other breeding facilities have risen above the Balkan gorges. Six of them were hatched in Prague and three in Zlín. However, ten of these seventeen vultures had at least a part of their journey in Prague. One Parisian vulture and all three of the Zlin chicks were reared by their surrogate parents in our zoo.

Unfortunately, the Zlín female who died this week was not the only one. Besides power lines, there are a number of other dangers and problems awaiting the “Egyptians” that are returned to the wild.

One of them is a lack of food. That is why we also funded the construction and running of a “vulture restaurant” in the mountains near the Bulgarian village of Partizani. Here the scavengers are offered a tempting menu. But nature is red in tooth and claw, and so even a vulture can become part of another animal’s menu. By pure chance, the other Zlin female was caught by a fox in Bulgaria just a short while ago.

And it’s even worse on their journey to tropical Africa. Two Egyptian Vultures, which were hatched in Vienna in 2016, flew to their African wintering grounds immediately after being released in Bulgaria. However, they did not even manage to cross the sea. The first drowned near Israel and the second near the Egyptian coast. Moreover, one of our Prague vultures succumbed to exhaustion during last year’s migration. Fortunately, this happened over the mainland, in Turkey, and it was taken by local conservationists to Faruk Yalçın Zoo. The fact that it was allegedly taken by the Turkish authorities and is now missing is another matter.

Thank God none of the vultures released in Bulgaria have been shot in southern Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. However, it is evident that these are dangerous areas in this respect, and the barbaric shooting of anything that moves probably does a lot of indirect harm. The vultures with radio-transmitters that flew from Italy repeatedly reached the shores of North Africa, but instead of resting or continuing inland, they made an abrupt turn and flew along the coastline until they dropped into the sea from exhaustion. It is assumed that they had nowhere to rest due to hunters firing their rifles.

However, one of “our” vultures did become a victim of human stupidity. The female hatched in Paris was shot in its wintering ground in Niger in 2016.

Despite all this, a significant number of the seventeen “Egyptians” returned to the wild have managed to avoid various kinds of pitfalls. This is a great success. Hopefully when they grow up, at least some of them will return from the African wintering grounds to the Balkans and nest there. That’s when we will stop remembering International Vulture Awareness Day with sadness and start celebrating it.