An adult bearded vulture was found dead on the 6th April within the ski resort of Flaine, in Haute-Savoie (department 74), of unknown causes. The bird was found relatively close to a ski lift, and the body was recovered to do a full post-mortem, and toxicological analysis. A few days later, on the 9th of April, another adult bearded vulture, with a suspected broken leg, was spotted by staff from the Parc National des Pyrénées in Aspe valley (Pyrenees Atlantiques). Following a complex operation, the bird was finally captured at midnight. It was immediately transferred to the rehabilitation centre Hegalaldia, where the sombre diagnostic was made: a small calibre lead pellet in the femur, and one lung perforated. The bird had also a wounded talon, and other wounds from a possible collision with a cable. The bird is now recovering in the Hegalaldia center
The bearded vulture found dead in the French Alps is not marked, suggesting it was a wild-born bird – the species started to breed in the Alps in 1997 after an absence of 90 years, after a reintroduction project started releasing birds across the alpine mountain chain in 1986. More than 200 birds have been released since then, and this has resulted in the reestablishment of the species in the Alps, now totalling 30 pairs, of which 9 in the French Alps – the population has been growing steadily but slowly. In Haute-Savoie there are three breeding pairs, and there was some anxiety that the adult bird could come from one of those, thus potentially jeopardizing the on-going breeding season, but fortunately all the birds from these three pairs have been accounted for by staff from ASTERS, the local partner that has been surveying and contributing to the conservation of the species in Haute-Savoie. Blood samples from the bird have been sent to analysis, to try to see if its DNA matches any sample stored in the alpine database- many alpine bearded vultures have been genetically fingerprinted throughout the years, through the collection of feathers under nests.
Unfortunately the bearded vulture shot-at in the French Pyrenees was probably breeding, as it had evident incubation plaques. This is the third bearded vulture shot in the Pyrenees Atlantiques in the last 8 years: In 2008 a bird was killed in the same valley, while in 2013 another bird was shot and killed in the French Basque country. There are only 8 pairs of bearded vultures in the Pyrenees Atlantiques (40 for the whole of the French Pyrenees, 130 breeding pairs in the Spanish side of the mountains). Even though the species is now recovering, the loss of breeding adults is an important blow, as bearded vultures only start breeding when they are 11-12 years old. The League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), which has been leading a conservation and monitoring programme for the species in the French Pyrenees, has pressed charges against unknown individuals, and an investigation is now under way. You can read the LPO press release below (in French).
The VCF, ASTERS, the LPO and others have invested many years of work – and millions of Euros-, to restore and conserve this species in the Alps and Pyrenees, where it has become a symbol for conservation of the mountain habitats – it is disgraceful that a few uninformed individuals try to jeopardize the efforts of many.