One of the two young females released earlier this year in the Grands Causses (Massif central, France) in the reintroduction project there, now under the LIFE GYPCONNECT project, has recently died due to a snake (viper) bite.
Aigoual and Cayla were released in the end of May in the Grands Causses. Cayla took her first flight on the 23rd June, but the LPO staff managing the project noticed that Aigoual had a problem after she walked into a bush on the 25th June - nestlings often explore widely the hacking platform and its surroundings by walking before taking their first flight. After going into that particular bush, she would not exercise her wings, started to limp, spending a lot of time under a shrub, and she seemed to have difficulty standing on one leg. So they decided to go up and catch the bird and found out that it was very swollen and oozed (see photos)
The VCF experts were contacted and the bird was immediately taken to Dr. Marie-Pierre Puech, an expert veterinarian. It was established that the bird had been bitten by a viper!
Unfortunately tissues were already necrotic but Dr. Puech did everything to try to save Aigoual – she administered antibiotic treatment and also the poison antidote. After recovering somewhat, Aigoual died 7 days after the bite, probably from acute renal insufficiency.
This is a very rare incident – we had never lost a bird due to a snake, even though they are often present at the release sites. Releases in the Grands Causses (which is mid-way between the Alps and the Pyrenees, and therefore will serve as the perfect corridor population for a pan European future gene flow) started in 2010 and so far 11 birds have been released there. Two of the birds released in earlier years, Larzac and Cazals, are now in Germany and Romania.
The current release is the first within the framework of the LIFE GYPCONNECT project, an EU funded project that aims to enhance the establishment of the gene flow between the bearded vultures is the Alps and the Pyrenees. The LIFE GYPCONNECT is also co-funded by the MAVA foundation.
Bearded vultures take 9 or 10 years to start breeding, so we will have to wait a few more years for the next milestone in the project – the first nest in the wild in the Grands Causses. In the meantime, the VCF, the LPO Grands Causses and other partners will continue to work together to re-establish this crucial population in the Massif Central, within the LIFE GYPCONNECT project. And the good news is that Cayla is doing well – she is flying strong above the Causses.
The VCF would like to thank the staff from LPO, and Dr. Marie-Pierre Puech, for all their efforts to save Aigoual. A publication about this freak incident is now being prepared.