Poison strikes again in Meteora: Egyptian vultures one step closer to extinction in Greece

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Egyptian vulture poisoned in Meteora. ©HOS/D. Vavylis

Another Egyptian vulture was found dead on the 16th of July in the area of Meteora and all evidence points towards poison as the most probable cause for its death. The carcass was discovered in its nest when researchers from the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) who are monitoring the population in the area accessed the nest after noticing the absence of the pair from its nesting site during the previous days. Although the second bird hasn’t been found, researchers fear that it has followed the same fate of its mate, as it unusual for this species to be absent from its territory for such a long period of time.

This event is the second case involving poisoned Egyptian vultures in the area of Meteora in only four years, and has hit one of the last three surviving pairs of the area. In just one incident, one third of the local breeding population has disappeared. It’s a crying shame, especially when considering that just until after the turn of the century, this area could proud itself of having the highest concentration of breeding Egyptian vultures in Greece, and probably of all the Balkans.

While the whole world has its attention focused on Greece and its economic and political situation, no one seems to be aware that in the same country, a rare species is rapidly slipping into extinction. Egyptian vultures were a common sight in the Greek countryside not so many years ago, whereas now -according to the survey carried out this year- only 10 pairs survive. The main reason for this dramatic decline is the illegal but nevertheless widespread use of poison baits throughout Greek rural areas.

As the saying goes “What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over”. This is quite true with poison. Poison baits are usually placed by an anonymous hand in relatively remote places where nobody sees what the results are: if there is no body, there is no crime. It has been estimated that only 10% of poisoned wildlife is ever found. This means that the magnitude of the problem is always underestimated and thus, can be put aside by the authorities as a matter of minor importance. But is this true? Thanks to the work implemented by HOS and WWF in the framework of the LIFE+ Project “The Return of the Neophron”, but also by other NGOs in other projects, much data and evidence has been collected in the past years to prove that poison baits and their impact on wildlife are not such a trivial issue and cannot be ignored in the hope it will just “go away”. The irrefutable fact is that this practice is illegal; it is a CRIME and should be regarded as so by the society and the authorities.

In only four years, Greece has lost 5 Egyptian vultures to poison baits. An emblematic species is disappearing right in front of our eyes so it is high time for both society and authorities to stop looking the other way and start acting. The Central Administration must pass down the order to relevant regional and local authorities such as Forestry Services and Municipalities, providing them with the resources needed to fight this scourge and enforce the law, implementing proper surveillance and monitoring, establishing action protocols and carrying out investigations and prosecutions among others. Society in its turn must also wake up and face its responsibilities; on many occasions the people in a village know who exactly the anonymous poisoner is, but perhaps out of fear or perhaps simply because nobody likes to be a snitch, the offender carries on with his illegal activity quite undisturbed.

In the meantime, time is running out for our Egyptian vultures...

Egyptian vulture poisoned in its nest in Meteora. ©HOS/G. Chondros
Egyptian vulture in Meteora. ©HOS/D. Vavylis
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