Shot down but saved: the inspiring story of Anahita the Egyptian vulture

A young Egyptian Vulture’s first migration was brutally cut short. Thankfully, BirdLife Partners were watching over her every step of the way. Through their co-operation, they transformed an illegal hunting casualty into a story of hope.

By Jessica Law

In September 2020, Anahita the three-month-old Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus left the Balkans on her first migration journey. We know this because she was wearing a satellite tag fitted by BSPB (BirdLife in Bulgaria). At the same time as fitting the tag, BSPB gave Anahita’s parents a foster chick, Neli, hatched by their captive breeding programme in a further effort to bolster the Endangered species’ population*.

Anahita, named after the ancient Persian goddess of fertility, water, healing and wisdom, set off to a confident start. Within a few days she had been spotted by Doğa Derneği (BirdLife in Turkey) as she swooped over their observation site. Doğa Derneği emailed BSPB, confirming all was well. Everything looked set for her to arrive in sub-Saharan Africa in time for winter.

But on just the sixth day of her journey, in a village to the west of Mount Lebanon, the tracker suddenly went still. BSPB staff watched with sinking hearts as the tag stopped transmitting for a while, before being moved to a location 300 metres away – a tell-tale sign that Anahita had probably been shot.

Frantically, BSPB contacted SPNL (BirdLife in Lebanon). Adonis Khatib, head of SPNL’s anti-poaching unit, acted swiftly alongside the security forces. Driving across the country, he arrived at the village just in time: Anahita had been shot, badly, with a broken wing and a body riddled by 13 pellets – but she was alive. What’s more, she was being cared for by the young son of the man who had found her, who was attempting to feed her a dead snake.

Khatib rushed the ailing Anahita to a vet, and then to the nearest suitable shelter: an aviary that SPNL usually used to breed and release Syrian Serin Serinus syriacus (Vulnerable), a small finch. Staff quickly modified the aviary to cater for a larger bird, and Anahita began her recovery.

Soon, word of Anahita’s story spread across social media. People began contacting SPNL, asking them to help other migratory birds that had been shot down – including cranes, Black Kites Milvus migrans and a pelican. Two cranes joined Anahita in the aviary, one of which has already been released into the wild. Inspired by this, SPNL, with help from BSPB, is now converting the aviary into a bird rescue centre to provide expert care for more migratory birds.

Sadly, it turned out that Anahita would never fly again. But her story – and her journey – doesn’t end there. In keeping with her namesake, the goddess of fertility, she will soon be going back to Bulgaria, where she will join BSPB’s captive breeding programme and hatch the next generation of Egyptian vultures. When you have friends watching over you, you don’t always need wings to fly.

* Doğa Derneği is part of the Egyptian Vulture: New LIFE project, a partnership with the Hellenic Ornithological Society (BirdLife in Greece), RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), BirdLife Africa and BirdLife Middle East to safeguard the species on every step of its migration journey.