Bearded vulture shot in France – sad reminder that direct persecution is still very much a threat in some parts of Europe

Fortunately the bird was successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild, but the incident is even more worrying now that warning shots against vultures have been authorized in parts of France.

Layrou, a young male Bearded Vulture, born in 2013 at the Guadalentín specialized captive breeding center (Andalusia, Spain) and released in June 2013 in Aveyron, together with a second nestling, as part of the reintroduction project in the Grands Causses, was found injured and extremely weak on the Lot region in France on the 16th of June 2014, after making a trip to Bretagne, and when he was on his way back to the Grands Causses.

All released birds in the reintroduction project are marked with a GPS tag, which allows researchers to follow the birds daily and know their exact location. It was due to this tag that the team from LPO Grands Causses and Parc national des Cévennes went to search for Layrou, after realizing that the bird was not moving.

Layrou was immediately transferred to a specialized veterinary in Toulouse, and the X-rays showed that it had been shot in the left wing. Fortunately the ammunition did not injure any flight muscle, but caused lead poisoning.  As soon as Layrou recovered a little bit of weight, the projectile could be extracted. The bird was later transferred to a small field aviary in Cassagnes (historical Griffon Vultures reintroduction site) to gain weight and heal its wing.

After five weeks of convalescence, Layrou could be re-released on the 23rd of July 2014 at the release site in Lozère (near Meyrueis), where two young birds, Jacinthe and Adonis, had been released this year, equipped with a new GPS tag. His movements can be followed on the LPO web site (http://rapaces.lpo.fr/gypaete-grands-causses/le-suivi-des-oiseaux). The recovery of Layrou was only possible due to great coordination between the LPO Grands Causes, the veterinaries and the experts from VCF, who have worked round the clock to guarantee that the bird had the best conditions.

The LPO and the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage have started an investigation to try to identify the author of this unacceptable and illegal action, and the LPO has initiated a civil action. The intent to destroy protected species in France can be punished with a prison sentence (up to one year) and a large fine (up to 15,000€).

It is unacceptable to find that bearded vultures are still shot at in France. This incident is even more worrying and disturbing now, at a time when some sectors in the French farming sector are asking to control large mammals and vultures in some areas in the Pyrenees, due to the their alleged impact on their livelihoods. Last week the French state has announced it will allow warning shots to be used against vultures as an experimental measure to evaluate its impact on preventing the alleged attacks of griffon vultures on live cattle – never demonstrated or documented in a solid way.

If bearded vultures are still being shot at when the species is fully protected, and has received great conservation effort and attention, in well-known reintroduction projects in the Alps and the Grands Causses, one can only fear what will happen with some form of direct vulture targeting is allowed legally in mountain areas where bearded vultures and griffon vultures fly freely.

The VCF is continuing to engage with French conservation organizations, government agencies and other public bodies to contribute to the resolution of this issue.

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