Highly protected Egyptian Vulture’s migration cut short over Malta

September 15, 2021 4:38 pm

An Egyptian Vulture from an Italian conservation reintroduction programme in Italy, which landed in the Maltese Islands yesterday to rest, has had its track cut short at Dingli in the past hours.

The vulture, an endangered species, was sighted yesterday morning over Buskett. Named “Isabel”, the juvenile Egyptian Vulture (Avultun Abjad in Maltese) was being tracked for its movements thanks to a satellite tag fitted before it was released on 20th August 2021 together with another four other juveniles from Parco della Murgia Materana (Matera) in the Basilicata region.

All birds, including this one, were born in captivity earlier this June as part of the LIFE Egyptian Vulture project led by CERM Associazione Rapaci Minacciati (Endangered Raptors Centre Assocation) which is based in southern Tuscany and houses the world’s largest number of Egyptian Vultures in captivity. Instruments to monitor the vultures following their release were donated to CERM by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) which is the world’s leading wildlife organisation solely dedicated to protecting, conserving and restoring Europe’s four species of vulture.

Reports point to the endangered bird having being shot down at Dingli

Distant record shot of Egyptian Vulture Isabel taken in the early afternoon when it was still soaring very high over Buskett yesterday (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Isabel left southeast Sicily yesterday morning, reached Gozo the same morning, transmitted over Buskett in the afternoon and kept transmitting over various locations in the south of Malta. Her last transmission was registered late yesterday evening at 19:44 when it was still visible under the Dingli Radar dome. Reports from birdwatchers and photographers in the area point to the bird having been shot down.

The Italian vulture reintroduction project in Italy is aiming to bring back the Egyptian Vulture. This endangered vulture species is the only one we get to see in Malta on migration, and is highly prized for taxidermy. At the CERM centre where reintroductions are being made, they literally hand-rear some of these birds with a degree of success of some adults returning to breed. As other birds of prey, the juveniles in autumn do their first migration to Africa, where they spend a number of years before returning to Europe as mature adults. From then on as adults they will start doing the autumn migration to Africa and spring migration to Europe. By the time they are adults such birds normally know how to avoid open stretches of water and cross from Sicily to Tunisia. In Malta we normally get to see more the inexperienced juveniles. This is the third Egyptian Vulture we have seen this year, two of which have been from the project run by CERM.

Looking at the tracks of these birds, we can see how the Maltese Islands are a crucial stepping stone to these endangered birds leaving the south of Italy. As with other birds of prey, inexperienced juvenile Egyptian Vultures use our islands as a stepping stone between Europe and Africa – a place where they can rest overnight to gather their energies mid-way in their journey to reach the African continent.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana stated: “Illegal killing of birds in Malta is becoming rampant. This is mainly due to the fact that a number of years ago the verification process of protected stuffed birds in collections that had benefitted from past amnesties, was stopped. This means that protected birds can be shot today, like this vulture, and be in time to be placed in a collection, prior to verification. BirdLife Malta is insisting that the verification process is restarted at the earliest and insists that no transfers of birds from one owner to another should be allowed unless both owners’ declared collections are verified”.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here.