This year the results from captive breeding bearded vultures are very good – so far 23 chicks are surviving across the vast network of specialized captive breeding centers, zoos and animal parks that form this network, coordinated by the VCF, and established under the auspices of the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria).
Last year the breeding season was extremely poor: 37 bearded vulture pairs in the EEP laid a total of 56 eggs, but these resulted in only 13 surviving juveniles, 7 raised in the the specialized captive breeding centers, and 6 in Zoos. Of these 13 young, 9 were released in the 3 on-going reintroduction projects (Alps, Grands Causses & Andalucia), and 4 were added to the breeding network.
The big number of young produced this year means that we will be able to release good numbers in nature, while keeping back some males for captive breeding - there is currently a surplus of 11 females in the breeding network.
The bearded vulture captive breeding network is a fantastic collaborative effort between many people and organisations - and is at the base of the successful reintroduction projects that are restoring the populations of this species across its former range. The VCF coordinates the whole process, providing technical support, transporting birds across the network, trying to maximise the establishment of new pairs, improving the husbandry, and reducing mortality (last year a total of 6 birds died), and improving breeding productivity. The annual report on the bearded vulture EEP for last year (2014) has just been published, you can download it below.
These days, staff and volunteers across Europe are busy making sure that the young bearded vulture do well – in our network young birds are reared by their own conspecifics, and we avoid if at all possible hand-raising for long periods, 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, in reintroduction projects, which is the ultimate aim of the network.
However, in some special cases, some human help is needed in the crucial first few days. This was the case, for example, of the young from Kirma, the wild Pyrenean bearded vulture with a horrific beak injury that was nursed back to health after being electrocuted, and that bred for the first time this year (see here for the full story). Due to the deformation of its beak, Kirma has been unable to feed its young properly, so the chick was hand-fed by humans for a few days (see video), before being returned to the pair and adopted by the male, who is now feeding it properly.
The VCF would like to thank all the many tens of dedicated individuals who are watching and caring, night and day, for these wonderful vultures, with the hope that at least some of them will soon fly high above on the European skies.