Volunteers from Cambridge are crowd funding to carry out surveys to find the last strongholds of vultures and birds of prey in Albania, so these magnificent birds can be protected and thrive again in a country known as the Land of Eagles. The main focus is on Egyptian vulture, known in Albania as the Cuckoo Horse, as it returns at the same time as the cuckoo in spring, and was thought to give it a ride home.
Our Project This July a team of conservationists and volunteers will travel to some of Albania’s remotest regions, hiking through the mountains looking for potential nesting cliffs. On the way we will talk to local people, who share their home with these magnificent birds, and use their invaluable local knowledge to help pinpoint important sites for vultures and birds of prey. We will also raise awareness of the importance of vultures and birds of prey and the threats they face, and show local people how to identify the different birds involved.
Why are we fund-raising? When Kevin Hand from the Association for Cultural Exchange (www.acefoundation.org.uk) visited Albania to set up a wildlife tour, he came across a remarkable and dynamic local organisation known as PPNEA – the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania ( www.ppnea.org ). PPNEA is working hard to support Albania’s last remaining vultures and birds of prey, but desperately needs more information on these rare birds. So, to tackle the problem, ACE and PPNEA have formed a partnership to establish the whereabouts of Albania’s last remaining vultures and birds of prey. In particular, we want to find out where these birds are breeding and exactly what is threatening their survival, so we can protect these important sites and allow their populations to recover.
Why Albania? Shqiperia (Albania in Albanian!) literally means Land of Eagles, and although this name has its origins in local myth, it has more than a ring of truth to it. Historically Albania has been home to 36 bird of prey species, including all four of Europe’s vultures. These magnificent birds once thrived in this mysterious and unspoilt corner of Europe. But recently Albania has opened up to the outside world, and while that means that many more of us can visit and enjoy its natural wonders, including its birds of prey, the changes that have taken place in the last few years have started to take their toll on Albania’s wildlife.
Why vultures? Kevin Hand says ‘ Vultures may not at first glance seem appealing or charismatic, but they play a vital role in our ecosystems, feeding on carcasses and preventing the spread of disease. In Albania, the annual arrival of Egyptian vultures from their wintering grounds was used by local people as a sign of the coming of spring. But it is possible that only this bird, out of Albania’s four vulture species, can still be found in Albania today, clinging on in very low numbers'. The reasons behind the decline of vultures and other birds of prey in Albania are not fully understood, but it is thought that changes in traditional ways of using the land have played a part. Death on migration and collisions with power lines are also an issue: recently, what may have been the last griffon vulture resident in Albania died after hitting power lines, despite being cared for by local villagers.
How will the money be used? The total amount needed for this project is £6000. ACE have already offered £3000 in matched funding, and we need just another £3000 to release this and reach our target – which is why we are asking for your help.
As examples of how the funds will be used, £20 covers the costs of a 4x4 vehicle for a day of fieldwork
£40 will fund food and shelter for one person spending one day searching for vultures and birds of prey
£100 will fund a day of training for local people on how to identify Albania’s birds of prey
If you are a UK tax payer, you may wish to donate direct to the project via the ACE Foundation, which as a registered charity is eligible for Gift Aid. Contact ACE (www.aceculturaltours.co.uk) specifying donating to the Albania project.
More about our Partners The Association for Cultural Exchange is a Cambridge-based charity of over 50 years standing, which aims to encourage effective inspirational education worldwide: www.acefoundation.org.uk. It raises funds by running educational holidays through its subsidiary ACE Cultural Tours www.aceculturaltours.co.uk
PPNEA (Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania) work towards bringing harmony between nature and human society in Albania. Established in in 1991, it was the first environmental organisation in Albania. www.ppnea.org
Many thanks to P.Jeganathan for the vulture photo.