We are sad to report that at least fifteen Griffon Vultures were found dead in an open well near Asilah in Northern Morocco. Some other vultures found nearby were saved and entered a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Griffon Vultures affected
Every year, thousands of Griffon Vultures regularly migrate across the Strait of Gibraltar — a certain percentage of the European population winters in west Africa and migrates through Morocco, down in the autumn, and up during spring. Some groups of nonbreeding vultures do stay year-round in the north of Morocco, and this incident probably happened with one such group. Griffons used to breed in Morocco, but do not do so at the present time, and are extinct as a breeding species in the northern African country.
A team of the Water and Forest Agency in Morocco were called to the scene to investigate the incident. One possibility is that the Griffon Vultures visited the well to drink some water or to splash around, and couldn't get out afterwards, possibly resulting in the drowning of 15 individuals. Vultures do often die in wells or irrigation channels, when they go down to drink, get their feather wet, and then are unable to get out.
These vultures sought water to quench their thirst, either due to the high heat or because they were poisoned. The Water and Forest Agency took samples to investigate the scenario of poisoning as some vultures look dazed and similar instances occurred in the past, where poisoned vultures in search of water drowned in wells. It is also possible that someone threw the dead vultures into the well. Poisoning is considered to be vultures' biggest threat on a global level according to the Vulture MsAP, co-developed by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and endorsed by the Convention for Migratory Species. While we suspect that poisoning is, or was, also widespread in Morocco – this would explain the general scarcity of several raptors and scavengers, there are only a few documented cases. Further investment and research is required to assess the impact of this threat in the country, to be able to take targeted conservation action.
A solution to 'killer' wells
Many wildlife species have been documented to die from drowning in wells, from small birds to vultures and cheetahs. There is a simple solution to this problem — an installation of a sturdy tree-branch or different structure in these that will enable birds and other animals that fall into such bodies of water to climb to safety, dry themselves in the sun and then get out without drowning.
Whether it was poisoning or drowning, this is a sad incident. We ask the Moroccan authorities to investigate it adequately, including doing the necessary toxicological analysis to identify the cause of death.