LIFE Project Cover Photo

Recovery of the Populations of Large European Vultures In Bulgaria

Reference: LIFE08 NAT/BG/000278 | Acronym: VULTURES' RETURN



Of the three large vulture species once found in Bulgaria – griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), black vulture (Aegypius monachos) and bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) – only the griffon vulture has a small viable population left in the Eastern Rhodope Mountain. The black vulture is no longer breeding in Bulgaria but regularly visits the feeding sites in Bulgaria; the bearded vulture is extinct. The conservation NGO Green Balkans Stara Zagora is working on a long-term reintroduction programme for griffon and black vultures in order to strengthen and to restore populations of these two species in their former ranges in Bulgaria, especially in the Balkan mountain range.


The main objective of the VULTURES' RETURN project was to restore the populations of the three large vulture species in Bulgaria through preparatory measures, direct reintroduction, conservation and improvements to the institutional capacity for vulture restoration.

To achieve this objective the project aimed to:

  • Reduce the impact of direct and indirect threats to large vultures in Bulgaria;
  • Maintain and enhance habitats and create favourable preconditions for the return of the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and the black vulture (Aegypius monachus) to the Balkan Mountain in Bulgaria as breeding species;
  • Explore the feasibility of and prepare for the bearded vulture and the black vulture's reintroduction as a follow-up phase of the griffon vulture reintroduction in Bulgaria, contributing to the overall stabilisation of all three vulture species on the Balkan Peninsula and Europe;
  • Restore the griffon vulture population across the range of the project target sites in Bulgaria and thus contribute to the recovery of the highly threatened griffon vulture population on the Balkans within the framework of the Balkan Vulture Action Plan;
  • Foster positive attitudes to vultures through promotion of ecotourism and nature-friendly agriculture;
  • Improve national capacity for pre- and post-reintroduction care of griffon vultures and advice at the Wildlife Rescue Centre in Stara Zagora as a main point of reference and expertise; and
  • Establish a functioning network of all stakeholders connected with nature conservation and reintroduction outcomes, specifically NGOs, park directorates, RIEW, hunter units, forest guards, veterinaries and local communities for ongoing monitoring of the status of target habitats and reintroduced vulture species.


The VULTURES' RETURN project achieved its objective of re-establishing a breeding population of griffon vultures in the Balkan Mountains, with two confirmed small colonies in the Western and the Eastern Balkan Mountains. The beneficiary imported more than 260 griffon vultures and transferred them to the adaptation aviaries. In total 210 birds were released, of which 40 were fixed with different kinds of GPS/GSM transmitters. As a result, around 70 vultures have settled and are permanently present at the four release sites.

In 2012 the first attempt at breeding in the Eastern Balkan Mountains was carried out, four years after the first vulture was released, and in 2015 the first wild-born griffon vulture successfully fledged in Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park (Western Balkan Mountains). In total, in the 2014-2015 breeding season, at least eight breeding pairs have been registered at the three project sites. As vultures are long-lived birds and the ones released were mostly juveniles, it is expected that the number of breeding pairs will increase steadily. The national breeding population was estimated at some 30-35 nesting pairs (Ekonekt Report on the nesting species of Natura 2000, published 2013). Recent monitoring has found 75 breeding pairs in the Eastern Rhodopes (2015) alone, as well as two additional small breeding colonies established in the Balkan Mountains, which means more than 100 % increase.

The project has also had a great positive impact on the highly threatened population of Egyptian vulture in Bulgaria, providing safe and abundant food for at least two breeding pairs (Eastern Balkans, Byala reka), which represents 7% of the national population. In addition, the sites maintained within the project in Bulgaria were visited by a record number of juveniles and non-breeding adults (up to 11 individuals, August 2014).

The project established sheep, goat and cattle herds in Kotlenska Planina and Sinite Kamani Nature Park as part of its initiative to maintain 300 ha of high mountain pastures. Moreover, threats for the vultures in and around the release sites were identified. The main cases of deaths were from electrocution from dangerous power lines and poisoning. The beneficiary closely cooperated with the electricity companies and provided them with detailed maps of dangerous spots, ahead of their insulation. The beneficiary also worked closely with local farmers and communities to prevent poisoning. Sixty shepherd dog puppies were donated to shepherds to minimise conflict with human activities. Furthermore, the project produced the Vultures and Forests Manual, which outlines vulture-friendly sustainable maintenance of the priority habitat (Sub-) Mediterranean pine forests with endemic black pines. Its management model could be widely replicated. In general, the project has a high demonstration value as it is the first successful reintroduction programme of large raptors in Bulgaria. Furthermore, a replicable model for protection of livestock from predator attacks was also developed.

Finally, the beneficiary submitted a formal letter to the Ministry of Environment and Waters, requesting an update of the standard data forms of a total of five SPAs and five SCIs to reflect the changes in the population and status of the target species in these areas. The project team also requested updating the numbers and occurrence of the species in the forms for four Natura 2000 sites. To further promote the results and importance of it conservation work, the project held five vulture festivals as well as numerous other events around the country.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Reference: LIFE08 NAT/BG/000278
Start Date: 01/01/2010
End Date: 30/06/2015
Total Budget: 1,332,328 €
EU Contribution: 666,164 €
Project Location:


Coordinating Beneficiary: Green Balkans Stara Zagora Non-Profit Organisation
Legal Status: NGO
Address: 9 Stara planina str., fl. 2, 6000, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria Balgarija
Contact Person: Ivelin IVANOV
Tel: +359 0 32626977

LIFE Project Map



  • Birds


  • introduction of animal species
  • restoration measure
  • endangered species


  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)


  • 9530 - (Sub-) Mediterranean pine forests with endemic black pines


  • Gyps fulvus
  • Gypaetus barbatus
  • Aegypius monachus


Type Code Name
SCI BG0000117 Kotlenska planina
SCI BG0000164 Sinite kamani
SCI BG0000166 Vrachanski Balkan
SCI BG0000420 Grebenets
SPA BG0000494 Tsentralen Balkan
SCI BG0001032 Rodopi - Iztochni
SPA BG0002019 Byala Reka
SPA BG0002029 Kotlenska planina
SPA BG0002053 Vrachanski Balkan
SPA BG0002058 Sinite kamani - Grebenets


Name Type
Green Balkans Stara Zagora Non-Profit Organisation Coordinator
Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, Bulgaria Participant