One hundred years after going extinct in the Alps, the bearded vulture is now back to the alpine skies – 30 established territories and a record number (19!) of wild-born fledged young in 2014, in one of the most celebrated and spectacular wildlife comebacks in recent decades in Europe.
What many do not realise is that at the base of this spectacular result is a dedicated network of organisations, staff, bird curators and volunteers, working in 40+ Zoos, animal parks and specialized breeding canters, working incessantly with a captive stock of birds to maximize captive breeding. And this is their busiest period of the year – birds are now hatching everywhere!
Across Europe, dedicated people are now working day and night to take care of precious eggs, help vultures hatch, and feed them in the key first few days of their lives.
This network, organised in an European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) under the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), is coordinated by the VCF. It uses the tried and tested natural rearing method – in our network young birds are reared by their own conspecifics, and hand-raising for long periods is strictly avoided, so that human imprinting is avoided, and the young birds receive from the adult pair all the behavioural clues necessary for a balanced development that will be important when they are eventually released in nature.
However, some tricks are used to maximise results. These birds often lay two eggs, but in nature only the first chick survives because it hatches 6-7 days earlier than the second, so curators often collect the second egg towards the end of the incubation period, incubate it artificially for the last few days, help it hatch, feed the chick in the first few days (before human imprinting occurs), and then give the young chick to a foster couple that lost their eggs (and kept in breeding mode using dummy eggs).
In Haringsee (Austria), in Guadalentin (Andalucia), in Vallcalent (Catalonia) – the three specialized captive breeding centers, or in some of the zoos, curators, staff and volunteers are now working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to take care of these precious eggs and young – see photos.
This year the 34 bearded vulture pairs in the captive breeding network have laid 50 eggs, from which 7 chicks have already hatched. Some of the young will be released in the 3 on-going reintroduction projects (Alps, Grands Causses & Andalucia), while the rest will be added to the breeding network.
The VCF would like to thank all of these, and their staff and volunteers, for this great collaborative work. Without them, the bearded vulture would not be flying high above the alpine peaks, the gorges of the Grands Causses, and the craggy peaks of Cazorla. Thank you very much! (Photos courtesy of EGS)