A story about a dead cow with happy ending

It all started with Marin’s call: ‘We got lucky – a cow died this morning. Set off!’

3.5-hour and 300-km later, it was time for one of my most emotional encounters with the vultures of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. Until then I had either failed to spot them after waiting infinitely long hours, or our encounters had been far too short and involved only a few birds.

I arrived in Madzharovo at about 5 p.m. with plenty of time to take the lucky cow to the vulture feeding station and enjoy the beautiful colours of the sunset. Then Marin ditched me all alone in the hide in the middle of nowhere, and probably went out for a beer, while I stayed in the forest with only the cow and the hope that tomorrow will be an exciting day.

I complained that the cow might not be enough, but Marin dismissed my worries: ‘Are you out of your mind?! A 300kg cow?! You’ve got to be kidding me…’ So, I fell asleep thinking about cows and crazy.

I woke up before sunrise and it turned out that the golden eagles are early birds too.

Despite all efforts the eagle couldn’t eat the whole cow. He had his fill, but the cow was still there, barely touched. There are, actually, two eagles in the pictures above – a young one and an adult. Unfortunately, the swarms of vultures didn’t let the young one get to the cow, but probably the adult shared some of its food later. Following the abundant breakfast, cleaning of feathers and beaks, the eagles flew off and it was the vultures’ turn now.

They started swarming. One would think the bravest ones are always at the front, but that’s not quite the case with vultures. First come the hungriest.

Despite their terrifying looks, vultures are rather timid and shy. Their tactics involves flying in circles up in the sky scanning the area until they are sure everything is alright. Then a couple of ravenous birds venture to alight nearby and continue the reconnaissance.

Actually, vultures are neither ugly, nor weird. Their main role in nature, beside living happily in kettles, is eating everything dead they put their eyes on along the way. This useful habit of theirs makes them the sanitation officers of nature – they clean it up of dead animals and prevent the spread of contagious and lethal diseases.

Unfortunately, they are deeply misunderstood, and their numbers on a global scale are shrinking by rates higher than those of large mammals such as elephants and rhinos.

The reasons are the ‘usual’ ones – habitat loss, decreasing food sources, poisoning and the most ridiculous reason – they are being killed for the purposes of traditional medicine and voodoo rituals.

This is the situation on a global scale. In Bulgaria, however, things are not quite the same. Despite the large range in the past, the griffon vulture became extinct in the country in the late 20th century. Some birds started appearing after 1970 in the Eastern Rhodope Mountain and shortly afterwards nesting couples were noticed. Today, thanks to the efforts of many people, some of whom I’m lucky to know in person, the number of nesting vultures is increasing and they can be seen flying in the sky above the Rhodope, Rila, Pirin and Stara Planina mountains.

But enough with the ‘science’. It’s time to get back to the cow. In case anyone has forgotten – the vultures were swarming…

Initially, there were only 2-3 of them – the first hungry scouts. It didn’t take long for the rest to alight and before I could realize what was going on it was rainingy turkeys. A few minutes later, they were all perching on the cow.

This is when I started to worry. The cow was noticeably vanishing, while the vultures were still coming in flocks. I’m talking crazy alright… on top of it all, I had another two days there… without a cow…

The vultures stayed true to their gentle and peaceful nature and feeding went on in full swing, being garnered with showing off, fighting and feather plucking…

The abundant meal attracted lots of other species which the griffon vulture welcomes with its innate hospitality and warmth.

A young white-tailed eagle came – my first encounter with him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get through to the food, but posed for a few pictures.

The third picture shows how friendly a vulture can be.

Sometimes, after tons of patience and even more tons of luck, in an early foggy morning, one of the most elusive forest creatures appears.

Of all European vultures, the bearded and the cinereous vultures lived on the territory of Bulgaria in the past. Unfortunately, today there are no free-living bearded vultures in the country, but the cinereous vulture can be spotted frequently.

The Egyptian vulture is the fourth species that lives in Europe. Its population size is dramatically decreasing on a global scale. The reasons are the same… The efforts for its conservation continue, but with little success.

Back to the cow again.

Actually it was over… in two hours. Now it was just me and its bones. I decided to be patent and wait another day. Some other animal might use the bones as a snack, I was thinking. Alas, only a quite surprised young hawk appeared.

This was the happy ending of my adventure. And it was great.

Happy end
Created By
Kalin Botev


Photo Credits - Kalin Botev

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