LIFE SUPport project aims to create better conditions for Griffon vultures in Croatia
In order to preserve and improve the current state of the Griffon vulture population in Croatia, the five-year LIFE SUPport project will begin in January 2023. The value of the project is 2,159,598 euros
The Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) is the only representative of the group of vultures that has survived in Croatia, as well as the largest bird species that regularly inhabits our country. In the past, our skies were graced by two more species of vultures, Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the Cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), but both became extinct during the 20th century. In order to preserve and improve the current state of the Griffon vulture population in Croatia, the five-year LIFE SUPport project will begin in January 2023. Preparations for the implementation are already underway and the project will last until December 2027.
In addition to the preservation of the only Croatian breeding population, which has survived on the Kvarner islands (Cres, Krk, Plavnik and Prvić), one of the goals of the project is to create better conditions for the expansion of the Griffon vulture population to their historical breeding grounds on the Croatian mainland. Due to a series of former activities of stakeholders participating in the protection and care of Griffon vultures, for the first time after more than 100 years, a successful nesting of Griffon vultures was recorded this year on the cliffs of the Učka Nature Park.
In the past, this species was widespread along the entire coast, and even in parts of Slavonia. Population decline and local extinction have also affected Griffon vultures in other European countries, and today the nearest populations are found in the Italian Alps and in the west of Serbia. The Kvarner population, thanks to many years of work on its preservation, is maintained at a stable number, which is today about 120 pairs. In 1993, the Eco-center Caput insulae with a recovery center for vultures was founded in Beli with the aim of protecting and preserving Griffon vultures under the leadership of doctor Goran Sušić. It was closed in 2012, after which the Center and Recovery Center in Beli were taken over by the Public Institution „Priroda“ in cooperation with partners.
The partnership of the LIFE SUPport project consists of Association BIOM as the leading partner, the Public Institution “Priroda”, the Agricultural Cooperative “Otok Krk”, Croatian distribution system operator company HEP – Operator distribucijskog sustava d.o.o. and the Vulture Conservation Foundation. The aforementioned project partners will be joined by the Nature Protection Directorate at Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development as an associate partner in the implementation of part of the project activities. The value of the project is 2,159,598 euros, of which 60% is financed from the LIFE programme of the European Union. The need for the urgent implementation of such a project was determined by the expert study for the proposal of the Griffon vulture management plan with an action plan. The LIFE SUPport project will tackle the biggest threats to this species, which are defined in the aforementioned document.
Since the Griffon vulture is a species whose survival in Kvarner islands depends largely on human activities, it is crucial to ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders in the project area. Namely, the main food of Kvarner island vultures are sheep carcasses, whose number has significantly decreased over the last decades. The lack of food in nature is currently being compensated by supplementary feeding sites for vultures. The project will increase this quantity and expand the existing network of feeding sites, including a new feeding site on Krk, in order to meet the current needs of the Griffon vulture population. Cooperation with local shepherds and hunters, which will continue to develop during the duration of the project, is crucial for the preservation of traditional sheep farming. In addition to the lack of food, the biggest threats to the population of Griffon vultures on the Kvarner islands are disturbance of nesting sites, poisoning and electrocution – death from electric shock on power line poles.
The population on the Kvarner islands is globally unique, since most of these birds nest on cliffs above the sea. Consequently, some of the birds, partly due to disturbance, fall from the nest into the sea and drown. Only a part of these birds can be saved and released back into nature after rehabilitation. With the help from our volunteers, in the coming years we will work on educating boat owners, tourists and fishermen about the best practices of desirable behavior near Griffon vulture colonies during the nesting period, especially in the summer. At that time, the juvenile vultures are still in the nests, fully fledged but still unable to fly, so it is crucial not to disturb them.
By promoting the use of lead-free ammunition and increasing the capacity of competent institutions to combat the poisoning of wild animals, cases of vulture poisoning will be prevented. An important reason why herdsmen are giving up livestock farming is the damage caused to their herds by jackals, which is also the reason for setting up poisonous baits that often kill Griffon vultures as well. The project aims to significantly reduce threat by using methods such as different types of fences, the use of dogs and cooperation with hunters.
Reducing the mortality of Griffon vultures from electrocution will be achieved by applying mitigation measures in key places in the Kvarner area. Over the past few years, measures to protect birds from electrocution on Cres have been installed on more than 200 medium-voltage poles, and 15 kilometers of overhead lines have been replaced by underground cables (that’s another 200 poles).Through project activities, mitigation measures will be installed on another 200 pillars, which will include key locations on other Kvarner islands and Učka mountain. Local volunteers will be trained to search for bird-killing power-line poles, and 60 employees of energy companies will be educated about the importance of improving the electrical energy infrastructure with the aim of preventing electrocution events.
During the project, tagging of birds with GPS transmitters will continue, which will enable monitoring of their movement in a wider area. The aim of this activity is to determine differences in the distribution and behavior of young and adult birds, for example differences in the areas where they find food, and information on potential electrocution hotspots. The data from the tagged Griffon vultures will also be added into the early-warning system for poisoning events, which has been launched through the BalkanDetox LIFE project.
By mitigating all the mentioned threats within the LIFE SUPport project, an increase in the number of nesting pairs of Griffon vultures is expected, as well as an increase in nesting success in the project area. Since vultures are a long-lived species, which takes five years to reach reproductive age, part of the results of the implemented activities are expected in the years after the end of the project itself.