2 May 2017
Freed from abuse, maltreated bird flourishes in Morocco
By Blandine Mélis and Jude Fuhnwi
A griffon vulture that was captured and mistreated by a group of young people in F’nideq, a town in northern Morocco, has reunited with other birds in the wild and [is] thriving. The captive vulture was freed following the timely intervention of BirdLife International’s partner in Morocco, and is currently being monitored closely by conservationists of the organisation’s office in the area.
The bird, identified as M13 was first discovered alongside four other depleted fawn vultures in the Jbel Moussa area by officers from the country’s High Commission for Water, Forests and the fight against Desertification. Popular for its strategic location south of the Strait of Gibraltar, Jbel Moussa is found on the route of migrating birds flying in from the Iberian Peninsula to sub-Saharan Africa. This key biodiversity area is being monitored regularly by workers of BirdLife International’s Partner in Morocco, the Groupe de Recherche pour la Protection des Oiseaux au Maroc (GREPOM).
The five fatigued griffon vultures were immediately taken to the Rabat zoological park, where they were treated. These birds were later tagged with wing marks and transmitters placed on them in order to use a radio receiver and antenna to monitor them. As part of the 2017 world wetlands day events, the birds were released into their natural environment on 07 February, at the Jbel site where they were first found.
One of the adults, a male, that was tagged M13 eventually flew into the F’nideq urban area in search of food, but was captured and mistreated by a group of unidentified young people near the city on 11 February. Images showing the poor treatment of this bird went viral in the media nationwide. Field workers from GREPOM with assistance from state agents in the city of Tétouan immediately intervened through a rescue operation and recovered the bird.
“The M13 vulture incident created an outcry in Morocco and efforts by GREPOM to save it attracted the interest of diverse media. Through the wide media coverage, we reached out to a large proportion of the public, including people who did not care about environmental issues before. It had a direct impact on public opinion and people were educated about the importance of conserving birds, which is a key focus of our strategy,” said Adil Boulahia, Communication officer at GREPOM.
The King’s Attorney General opened an investigation to determine the circumstances under which the bird was captured and to identify those responsible for the act. This incident triggered debates at national level on the issue of wildlife abuse, and mobilized civil society groups active in bird and biodiversity conservation. Many people became aware of the laws relating to the conservation of birds, and there was also a remarkable mobilization of local authorities for the cause.
“It was a starting point towards a long-term change in harmful behaviour towards birds. It also prepared the ground for GREPOM to raise awareness through campaigns and develop large scale conservation programmes, as the public is more receptive to the cause and more familiar with GREPOM and the work that we do in this area,” added Adil.
One month after the M13 vulture was freed, experts say the bird has regained strength and has been sighted often with his brother, M14.
“I last saw M14 on 20th March heading north with a group of other vultures. Of the five vultures released, at least two of them can be sighted above the mountain. Until April 25th, they were spotted among a hundred other wild vultures flying high and their marks were illegible,” explained Rachid El Khamlichi, Monitoring Coordinator of GREPOM’s northern unit.
With this achievement, GREPOM looks forward to funding opportunities that can provide donations for the monitoring of vultures, in order to support the success of this project.
Moroccan authorities are working closely with GREPOM and other partners to conserve the species in the area and effectively coordinate the protection, rehabilitation and monitoring of vultures.
For many years now, GREPOM has been collecting observation data on the behaviour and adaptation of birds, and has continued to raise awareness and educate local populations on bird conservation issues. This has achieved positive results towards convincing locals that vultures are important birds that provide numerous services to humans and the ecosystem. In 2016, more than twenty young people showed their commitment to protect vultures and participated in setting up a feeding site for the birds.