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25 March 2017

ACE Tour Director Kevin Hand introduces his new project to help save Albania's wild vulture population.


Saving Albania's Vultures

For 30 years I had wanted to visit Albania and in 2015 my dream came true. The country was undeveloped, had wonderful wildlife and some of the friendliest people in Europe. As a previously closed Communist country, Albania had escaped many of the agricultural developments which  have changed our own landscape.

I was delighted to find that the government had responded to negative criticism about killing of migrant birds by making all shooting illegal, a ban that has now been in place for 3 years. As I planned out my first ACE tour there, I approached the young and enthusiastic members of PPNEA – a wildlife charity set up immediately after the fall of the previous regime – and asked how the ACE Foundation might be able to help.

PPNEA explained that very little was known about the wildlife of the remoter parts of the country, particularly the birds of prey and vultures. Three of the four European vultures may no longer breed, with the last known griffon vulture dying after hitting power lines in 2016, much to the sadness of the local villagers who had been feeding and caring for it. There were just 8 known nests of Egyptian vultures remaining.



Together we formulated a plan to support them in their work, by sending over a small team of UK volunteer to join others from Albania, Bulgaria and Greece to help monitor nests. Some members of my first tour to Albania are going back with me this summer to help!

We set up a Crowdfunder page (link below) to raise the funds need and ACE Cultural Tours has agreed to match what we raise. A strong secondary aim was to raise awareness of the beauty and value of Albanian wildlife, both within the country and with potential visitors from the UK and elsewhere.

The first ACE tour went really well, and the second, in October 2017, is nearly full; another is planned for 2018. On our first tour PPNEA staff met our group and explained their work on vultures and other key issues like protecting the rare Balkan lynx. We saw flamingos, ancient churches and mosques..and PPNEA made it onto the BBC, with an episode of From Our Own Correspondent talking about Dalmation pelicans and the wonderful Albanian coastal wetlands.

Amongst the many magic moments here is one recalled by participant Lesley Dodd, who is now helping me run the project Facebook page

“On ACE's wonderful wildlife tour in Albania we were one of the first tourist group to visit the now uninhabited island of Maligrad in Lake Prespa, a tectonic lake that forms the border with Greece. There we saw a beautiful and incredible tiny church within a huge cave, with magnificent frescoes; and an equally beautiful and incredible Alpine Swift. This is the largest European swift: we don't get them in the UK. It had crashed to the ground, probably chilled by a fierce squall on the lake.With Kevin’s help our Albanian friend Sokol picked it up, warmed it in his hands and threw it into the air, where it curved away, quite unharmed, to a chorus of our cheers. Please support our Saving Albania’s Vultures project to help conserve Albania’s wonderful and vulnerable wildlife!” Lesley Dodd


Saving Albania’s Vultures Crowdfunder page

Saving Albania’s Vultures Facebook page

Saving Albania’s Vultures YouTube video

Kevin's Interview on Cambridge 105