Monday, October 24, 2016

Croatia’s Griffon Vulture Rescue Centre

Croatia Online - Griffon Vulture Centar - Bird
It was with some surprise, as I worked my way south along the coast road from Senj, that I saw a sign for the Griffon Vulture Centar, more officially known as the Birds Of Prey Conservation Centar. I’d got to know it a little, seven years ago, when  I was living in Croatia and wrote a feature on birds in Croatia for Time Out.  Follow the link below to go back to earlier postings on this:
Croatia Online - Birding In Croatia

At that time the centre was located on the island of Cres, an island that had become synonymous with the birds it protected. However, it seems that the somewhat unregulated tourist attention that ensued from the ecological success of the project, the introduction of wild boars for hunting, which disrupted the already fragile eco-system, and a number of other factors, forced the centre’s  founder, Goran Sušić, to relocate to the mainland.
Croatia Online - Griffon Vulture Centar - Sign
Unfortunately the Griffon Vultures have a number of other challenges, not least the fact that there are not so many dead carcasses around any more and certain drugs, used by farmers on their livestock, are toxic to the birds. Goran and his team have helped the numbers in Croatia go from 80 to 140 but they are now going back down again.

Nonetheless, and despite being somewhat dispirited by the ups and downs of their pioneering work and particularly the politics that surround it, this small group of conservationists continues to do its best to rescue and care for injured or orphaned birds and return them to the wild.

The centre itself is a fascinating place and I was lucky enough to get a one on one guided tour from Marin, the founder’s son.  One of the most interesting things he told me (and there were too many for my overloaded memory to handle!) was that the  Griffon Vultures from Cres are the second heaviest in the world, only beaten by those from the Himalayas. The reason is obvious once you think about it: at the high altitude of the Himalayas, a bird needs plenty of weight to cope with the violent winds and weather. In this region of Croatia, the fierce Bora wind, from the north-east, blows more strongly and more frequently than anywhere else in Croatia, and a bird needs plenty of muscle and power to manoeuvre in its mighty gusts.

Croatia Online - Griffon Vulture Centar - Marin
Apart from the rescue, care and release of the birds, the centre is also involved in the science of trying to protect this highly endangered species. One vulture has GPS “onboard”, many are ringed and from this conservationists learn much about their struggles. They tracked one pair taking it in turns to make a round trip to Italy every day, in order to feed their young, because there was no food in Croatia and, apparently, the centre is not allowed to set up a feeding station. 

The centre also helps in the education of children and adults alike and the rooms and outside spaces are peppered with innovative quizzes, visual displays and information areas. Of course the centrepiece is the convalescing birds themselves, kept in an enormous netted area with a hut and viewing area at one end. The vultures are happily oblivious to all the interest they arouse as they are viewed through one way glass – you can see them but they can’t see you!

Croatia Online - Groffon Vulture Centar - Centar
For more information go to Griffon Vulture Centar At the time of writing the website was not available which we trust is just a temporary hitch, perhaps caused by a big Bora wind!

Facebook pages are mostly in Croatian Facebook – Grifoncentar

GPS co-ordinates are 44°53.06’ N 14°54.72’E and opening times are 11 to 6 from 1st May to 30th September. However, certainnly outside the main summer period, it’s probably best to ring ahead to the mobile to double check someone is going to be there when you want to visit + 385 ( 0 ) 91 3357 123.

The tour costs 30 Kn but all donations are most welcome and you may be lucky enough to be given a small souvenir.


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