Bianca arrives in Tunisia where she meets her death, probably as the result of poisoning

The young Egyptian vulture, who departed from the Basilicata region in the south of Italy on the 3rd September, 2018, reached Tunisia on the 12th September only to die the following day in the Sfax governorship, in the central-eastern part of the country.

Bianca before her release

The unfortunate bird’s body was discovered by Hichem Azafzaf, president of the Association “Les Amis des Oiseaux” (AAO/BirdLife Tunisie, Tunisian ornithological association). The Tunisian ornithologist was alerted to that fact that Bianca might be in difficulty by the experts at ISPRA (Environmental Protection and Research Institute) and CERM (Endangered Raptors Centre) who had been monitoring her movements by means of the GPS/GSM datalogger she was fitted with.

The migratory route taken by Bianca

Hichem left Tunis immediately, headed for the bird’s last known position and, after a journey of 350 km, he discovered Bianca, already dead unfortunately, in an area used for growing olives and pasturing sheep. The x-rays carried out back in Tunis ruled out the possibility that Bianca had been shot, whereas her posture and the external signs on her body all pointed to poisoning as the cause of death. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest that local shepherds leave out poisoned animal carcasses to protect their flocks from land predators, even though this practice is illegal under Tunisian law.

Bianca’s body immediately after it was discovered in Tunisia (photo Hichem Azafzaf)

Bianca’s body will be analysed by Prof. Ali Amara, an expert in toxicology at the Tunisian national Veterinary college in Sidi Thabet, in order to provide official confirmation of her poisoning.

Bianca’s fate, like that of her sister Clara, who was shot in Sicily two days earlier, was entirely unexpected since she was in perfect health and following the ideal migration route.

Between the 11th and 12th of September, stopping to rest for the night on the island of Pantelleria, Bianca successfully negotiated the stretch of sea that separates Sicily from North Africa, and which represents the most important natural obstacle to Egyptian Vultures on their migration from Italy to their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. On the 12th of September, during the course of the last stretch of her long voyage, Bianca covered 338 km between Pantelleria and the place of her death, 148 km over sea and 190 km of Tunisian territory.

Bianca’s body (photo Hichem Azafzaf)

The death of Bianca and Clara by the hand of man clearly demonstrates how it is almost impossible for migratory birds of prey to avoid the mortal dangers they encounter during their voyages.

The at CERM and ISPRA would like to express their sincerest gratitude to Hichem Azafzaf, Claudia Feltrup and Hedi Aissa from the Tunisian association “Les Amis des Oiseaux” for their efforts in attempting to save Bianca.

Life Egyptian Vulture