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Life + Project ‘The Return of the Neophron’ Starts

The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) announces that the European Commission decided to finance its proposal for urgent measures to conserve the Egyptian Vulture in Bulgaria and Greece and along its flyway titled ‘The return of the Neophron’.  The proposal is a joint initiative of the BSPB, the Greek Ornithological Society and the WWF Greece, and the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The target species is the Egyptian Vulture, (Neophron percnopterus), the most threatened European vulture, which has recently been up listed as globally Endangered (EN), BSPB website informs.

The Egyptian vulture is an umbrella species, whose conservation will also substantially benefit other vulture species, and other raptor species of priority for conservation with which it shares the same breeding and foraging habitats and main threats, especially susceptibility to poisoning. The species is an indicator for healthy, intact natural ecosystems formed over centuries of traditional low-intensity livestock farming or naturally open, non-forested habitats of semi-arid areas with a high abundance of small vertebrates.

At the same time the Egyptian vulture is a highly plastic species inhabiting territories close to human settlements, and therefore the species is not only significant indicator of biodiversity richness, but tests human tolerance to wildlife and nature in general. It has been symbolic to many cultures and societies. One illustration being the fact that it epitomizes the Phoenix – the mythical bird rising to life from its ashes. The Muslims have also revered this bird, believing it saved Mohammed when the Prophet was captured by an eagle and since then the Egyptian vulture was blessed to be the only white vulture and live forever. This oriole of sacredness makes the smallest of the Old world vultures ideal flagship to communicate the nature protection messages to local communities, whose positive attitudes are vital to the long term sustainability of any conservation effort.

The ‘Return of the Neophron’ project starts on 1 October 2011 and will operate in key Natura 2000 sites in Bulgaria and Greece for the next five years. The planned work engages pivotal steps to understand better the species biology and ecology: studying the causes of breeding failure and low survival rates and investigate the situation in the main African breeding grounds for the species. It also provides for implementing a large scale direct conservation programme in Bulgaria and Greece securing innovative approaches like small-scale supplementary feeding and nest guarding, which has already proven rather successful in the BSPB’s experience. The work on this project will allow the BSPB and its partners carry out intensive outreach and information programme, that will raise the profile of the Egyptian vulture in Bulgaria and Greece.

The project actions will directly address all confirmed threats that face Egyptian vultures in Bulgaria and Greece that contribute to the long-term decline of this endangered species. Additionally, publication of a ‘Flyway Species Action Plan’, reinforced by an active expert conservation network, will be an important catalyst for future conservation action outside the EU that will directly benefit the Bulgarian and Greek breeding population. The project will provide a valuable model for partnerships elsewhere working with migratory species.

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