Three young bearded vultures – two males and one female- were released last Saturday in an adequate ledge high up in the Sierra de Cazorla, part of the reintroduction project there. Before being taken to the hills, the birds were shown to an enthusiastic audience in the centre of the scenic village of Cazorla by the regional minister of environment (Maria Jesús Serrano, Consejera de Medio Ambiente y de la Ordenación del Territoprio, Junta de Andalucia ), and by the mayor of Cazorla.
The three birds were raised in the captive breeding network managed by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). One of them was raised in the specialized breeding center established in Andalusia at the start of the project (Guadalentin). The other one came from the center in Catalonia, co-managed by the VCF and the Generalitat de Catalunya, while the third was born in Ostrava Zoo (Czech Republic).
The three young birds arrived safe and well in southern Spain, and after a quick check by veterinarian and experts, were given the go ahead to be released.
The bearded vulture reintroduction project in Andalusia (Sierras de Cazorla, Segura, Castril and Las Villas), led by the Junta de Andalucia, in collaboration with the VCF, started in 1996, with the first birds being released in 2006 - with these three, a total of 31 birds have now been released there. The oldest individuals flying is now 8 years old, and starting to come into breeding age - normally this species starts to reproduce in the wild at 8 or 9 years old.
The bearded vulture was widespread in the mountains of southern Spain until the 40s, but intense human persecution and widespread poisoning cause it to disappear from southern Iberia. The last confirmed breeding took place in Cazorla in 1983, and in 1986 the last adult also disappeared.
In 1996 an agreement was then signed between the Junta and the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (the precursor of the VCF) to establish a specialized captive breeding centre in Guadalentin (Sierra de Cazorla), with birds provided by the FCBV. This center has been working ever since within the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), managed by the VCF, and currently houses 21 birds, and six breeding pairs.
All released birds so far have been marked with GPS transmitters. Nine of the released birds have been found dead (poisoned, with lead intoxication or because of unknown cases), but 14 are known to be alive and well. Most have dispersed at some point, travelling far and wide across the peninsula, visiting the far away Pyrenees, Picos de Europa and locally Sierra Nevada, but then flew back to the release area and are well established there.