Griffon Vulture GPS Movements

GPS Movements of Griffon Vultures

Follow the incredible movements of Griffon Vultures tagged with GPS transmitters across the Balkans and beyond

In a cross-border initiative, the BalkanDetox LIFE team will within the auspices of the project tag 25 Griffon Vultures from the Balkan population and incorporate existing GPS data of already tagged birds to intensively monitor their behaviour, helping track poisoning incidents, save poisoned wildlife and prosecute wildlife criminals.

What is GPS tracking of birds?

Since the early 1990s, conservationists started utilizing GPS transmitters or tags to track large birds' behaviour and movements, and in recent years this type of monitoring saw exponential growth. Today, GPS transmitters weigh only a few grams and come in various sizes suitable for different species. They are typically fitted on the backs of birds and are powered through the solar panels situated at the top that recharge with sun exposure. Depending on the type of transmitter, up to 10,000 fixes per day can be recorded. The respective research teams then receive the data and battery life information via satellite or the GSM network. The tags can remain operational for several years, with the possibility to typically follow individuals for 2 to 4 years or even longer.

Why is GPS tracking of birds important?

A GPS transmitter can provide invaluable information that will help inform more accurate conservation actions. The gathered data feed into several aspects of bird biology, ecology and conservation knowledge, enabling conservationists to understand the movements, foraging ranges and habits of tagged birds. A GPS transmitter also acts as a great tool to check the well-being of a tagged bird, which mobilizes a field team to check up on the bird on-site, often saving injured or weak birds. If the bird dies and the carcass is retrieved promptly, a proper post-mortem analysis can be performed. This action in turn helps reveal any threats the tagged birds may face during travelling, providing insights that allow conservationists to implement measures to reduce risks and help support the species’ comeback in the area.

How will GPS tracking help tackle illegal wildlife poisoning?

One of the ways BalkanDetox LIFE plans to mitigate illegal wildlife poisoning is by utilizing GPS tracking of Griffon Vultures. These birds are social, forage in groups, cover vast distances regularly, and quickly detect animal carcasses by using their incredible eyesight and following visual cues. This ability enables them to consume carcasses fast and efficiently, which provides environmental benefits to nature, other wildlife and humans. However, it also means that if they feed on a poisoned carcass, many Griffon Vultures can be wiped out just by a single poisoning incident. The project foresees to monitor all Griffon Vulture colonies in the Balkans to effectively track and prevent mass poisonings incidents of the species and other scavenging animals, as they would also act as sentinel species. To achieve this, the project needs to equip 25 Griffon Vultures with GPS transmitters and at the same time collaborate with different projects that tag Balkan vultures to utilize their data, an action coordinated by the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna. All the tracking data will be available in a platform accessible to all project partners, enabling them to intensively monitor bird behaviour on an hourly basis in combination with frequent field visits in places where the vultures landed and seem to have taken food.

How will this work in practice? Suppose a bird does not move, the bird’s body temperature drops or the accelerometer data shows no activity for a long time. In that case, GPS transmitters alert conservationists that something is wrong, mobilizing them to swiftly check up on the bird in the field and timely address potential problems, implementing preventive actions directed at a local and even regional level, depending on the case. This procedure could help rescue and rehabilitate wildlife or even prevent mass poisoning incidents, potentially saving many lives. Furthermore, if vultures were illegally poisoned, an investigation can launch. By retracing the GPS movements of vultures, the criminal(s) could be identified and convictions enforced, therefore deterring similar instances from occurring again.

Map with GPS movements of Griffon Vultures

The following map shows the journeys of the tagged Griffon Vultures monitored within BalkanDetox LIFE.

Threat of illegal wildlife poisoning

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