Results from the toxicological and parasitological analysis of Egyptian Vultures from Bulgaria and Greece

27.10.2015
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Collecting blood sample.

The Egyptian Vulture is declining throughout most of its distribution range. In the Balkan Peninsula, the population has declined from over 500 pairs in the 80es to less than 80 pairs currently (Velevski et al. 2015). There are numerous threats affecting the species in its breeding areas and along the flyway, such as use of poisons, electrocution, collisions with power lines and wind-turbines, direct persecution, habitat loss, food shortage, and others. Poor health condition resulting from the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other veterinary products, contamination with heavy metals and different diseases, was suspected as one of the main drivers for the population decline in the breeding grounds.

To understand more on this critical issue on the conservation of the species in the Balkan Peninsula, a study on the health condition of the Egyptian Vulture population in Bulgaria and Greece was conducted by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and the Center for Analysis and Diagnosis of Wildlife (CAD) in Malaga, Spain, in the frames of the LIFE+ project “The Return of the Neophron” (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152). The study aimed to identify possible infections (bacteria or virus) and potential exposure to toxic substances or intoxications caused by heavy metals, pesticides and veterinary medicaments.

A total of 182 samples (36 blood samples for toxicology, and 146 samples from throat, cloaca, and eye for pathogen analysis) from a total of 49 individuals (mainly fledglings) coming from different Egyptian Vulture territories from Bulgaria and Greece, were collected by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, Hellenic Ornithological Society and WWF Greece during 2012 and 2013, and send for analysis in 2014.

For the infectious part, a long list of microorganisms (Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., Esherichia coli 0157, Chlamidia spp., Avian mycoplasma, Avian adenovirus, Avian circovirus, Newcastle, West Nile and Bordetella) was analysed  - all of them known as potential pathogens affecting birds of prey or Egyptian Vulture in particular. For their identification and quantification microbiological and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) analyses were used. The results revealed that these microorganisms did not affect the sampled individuals. Only very low concentrations of Newcastle were detected in some of the samples and in some low concentrations of Avian adenovirus and Avian circovirus were detected. This means that these individuals had only a contact with these viruses (probably very common), but were not suffering from these diseases.

In terms of toxicological analyses, samples were analysed for heavy metals (lead and cadmium), 270 different pesticide compounds, 137 antibiotics and 21 anti-inflammatories. All these compounds can be found in vulture food (coming from agricultural and veterinary practices) and might have negative effects on the Egyptian Vulture’s health condition. The results were surprisingly good - nearly all of the samples were negative. Only very small insignificant amount of Aspirin (Acetylsalicylic acid) was detected in one group of samples taken from Greece.

In conclusion, the analyses performed suggest that the juveniles sampled were in good health condition during the period of sampling – not affected by any pathogen or toxic substances. While this does not allow us to extrapolate to the whole of the Balkans, and for other periods of time, it suggests that wildlife disease and intoxication with heavy metals (including lead), and with toxic compounds from agriculture or veterinarian practices may not be a significant threat to Egyptian Vultures in Bulgaria and Greece.

The full report in PDF could be downloaded from here.

 

Taking a sample from the eye.
Taking a sample from the throat.
Taking a sample from the cloaca.
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