Disgusting yet intriguing. Endangered yet hugely important. Clumsy on land yet majestic in the air. Vultures might be paradoxical creatures, but they are nevertheless loved by wildlife enthusiasts and photographers the world over.
This is why these so-called “lords of the skies” are celebrated on International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). Taking place every year on the first Saturday in September, the day also promotes vulture conservation and highlights the important work being carried out by the world’s vulture conservationists.
A total of three vulture species are found across five of Rewilding Europe’s operational areas – the griffon vulture, black vulture and Egyptian vulture. On the Bulgarian side of the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area, where griffon and Egyptian vultures breed (and hopefully soon black vultures), this year’s IVAD was celebrated in the town of Madzharovo. More than 150 people (mostly children) came together on September 6 and 7 to enjoy a fun-packed two-day programme put together by the local rewilding team.
The IVAD event featured the “Lords of Rhodopean skies” photo exhibition (which kicked off on September 6 and ran for a week), vulture observation and lots of games for kids. Visitors had the opportunity to visit the vulture centre in Madzharovo free of charge, and take a closer look at the nearby griffon vulture colony.
The games, which included quizzes, painting and a game that simulated the various dangers that vultures face, helped children gain a better understanding of vulture biology and the birds’ precarious foothold in the Rhodope Mountains.
Vultures in the Rhodopes have long faced a variety of threats, including a lack of carrion, poaching, poisoning and collisions with power lines. Starting in 2016, the five-year LIFE Vultures project was developed by Rewilding Europe, in collaboration with the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), and a range of other partners.
Focusing on the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area, as well as a section of the Rhodope Mountains in northern Greece, the aim of the project is to support the recovery and further expansion of local black and griffon vulture populations. While black vultures are absent as a breeding species in Bulgaria, they do breed across the border in northern Greece, and measures are being carried out to entice them to return.
This year’s IVAD event was organised by the Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation and local partner the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds- in cooperation with the municipality of Madzharovo – as part of the LIFE Vultures project.
A particular highlight of the IVAD programme was a colourful theatre performance entitled”Nice to meet you, Iva“. This saw Madzharovo’s vulture centre transformed into an outdoor stage, and gave the audience an insight in the life of vultures in the Rhodope Mountains.
The play sees an actress recount her first close encounter with vultures and the lasting impression that the birds made. Having won two prestigious Bulgarian theatre awards, it has already been seen by thousands of people.
“We were delighted to be able to host this wonderful performance and promote vulture conservation to so many new people,” said Rewilding Rhodopes team leader Stoycho Stoychev after the show.