You can often see them from the lookout deep in the lush Dadia forest, near the Rodopi mountain range. Today there are 19 vultures feasting on carrion; 13 of them are the protected black vultures. Binoculars and a telescope are supplied and a park officer is on hand to keep visitors informed and in check—the birds may be hard of hearing but have eight times the strength of human eyesight and are sensitive to any movement in the forest.
In the 1980s, the black vulture was a threatened species in Europe. A Dutch ornithologist counted only 25 individuals, breeding in the Dadia forest, near the northern Greek city of Alexandroupolis.
After intense lobbying by international wildlife conservation groups, a 7,290-hectare section of the forest of mostly pine and oak was declared a protected zone in 1980 (along with another 27,000 hectare buffer zone) by the World Conservation Union and the WWF. Logging was banned, tourist activities curtailed, and infrastructure projects such as new roads were halted until an integrated management plan could be implemented.
In 1998, the inner zone of the Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest was declared a wildlife reserve. Despite continuing negotiations over its status and management, it appears to be a commendable model for conservation and eco-tourism development.
At the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, Dadia is on one of the two main bird migration routes in Europe and has a unique mosaic of habitats. It has the most diverse range of predatory birds—including 36 of the 38 European species of diurnal birds, of which 20 nest there permanently. It is renowned as one of two remaining European feeding and breeding grounds (the other is in Spain) for rare raptors such as the black and griffin vultures. The forest provides the necessary tranquility for the vultures' long reproduction period.
Within the protected area there are 219 species of birds, 40 species of reptiles and amphibians and 48 species of mammals.
About 200 visitors per day pass through the Ecotourist center (run by the municipality and WWF Greece), which has informative bilingual displays and a video about the forest, the wildlife and the efforts to protect the environment.
Guides are available to take you up to the lookout in a mini-bus or an escorted walk along the clearly-defined trails.
A 20-room hostel was recently refurbished and expanded with EU funds and the cafe and bus service are run by the local authority.
May is the best time to visit, before birds begin their migration, though the best time for vultures is autumn, when the young are fresh out of their nests.
Although use of the forest is still a sensitive issue with locals from surrounding villages, many are involved in the Ecotourist ventures.
WWF has had a permanent presence in the forest since 1992, running programs to protect and monitor bird species, conserve raptor populations, raise public awareness and ensure a sustainable level of tourist activity. VK
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