Conclusions of the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2019

This November we had our Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting, where we exchanged our Bearded Vulture conservation updates with our colleagues in Europe and beyond. Have a look below at the conclusions. 

 

General overview

  • The Bearded Vulture conservation programme in Europe is one of the most successful wildlife comeback stories of our times!
  • A great project that has gathered momentum, motivated partners and captured the imagination of people. It is not only a conservation project – it is a human and social adventure that is producing social, political, economic and conservation outputs
  • It is growing in complexity and scope and has evolved from discrete, single-focus projects to a truly international, pan-European programme. Research & monitoring has always underpinned the projects - expanding the scope of the research to all populations – so engagement with the IBM, collaborative approaches need to be strengthened for a European-wide analysis (mortality, movements, etc.)

 

Bearded Vulture conservation

  • Continuing to work on threats is essential. Poisoning remains a severe threat as well as electrocution, collision and lead poisoning 
  • Great work is being done on the French Pyrenees – 65% of scavenger bird mortality is anthropogenic, 28% due to poisoning; 10% of Bearded Vultures in the Pyrenees with sub-lethal lead exposure.
  • Lead poisoning – Bearded Vultures are particularly sensitive; new project in perspective in the Alps, within the context for a strong push for regulatory approach from the EU. Interesting pilot experiments with the use of non-lead ammunition in France, general good satisfaction, issues with price and ricocheting
  • Mortality of Bearded Vultures: many cases multi-factorial; still many unknown causes, even of tagged Bearded Vultures – need to improve data management to detect and identify mortality causes! 

 

EVC research themes - where are we with Bearded Vulture research? 

  • Defining and assessing success? Several ongoing projects, e.g. reintroduction in the Alps, GypConnect etc. 
  • Replication of successes - e.g. expansion of BV releases
  • Vulture movements, space use and breeding distribution? Several ongoing projects, e.g. use of feeding sites; wild vs released juveniles
  • Tracking data to inform proactive and reactive conservation? Detecting and responding to mortality/injury – many / all projects using tracking data
  • What kills vultures – All projects continuously monitoring and improving methods
  • Supplementary feeding – Studies on movements, breeding parameters complete/ongoing; feeding protocols developed and implemented
  • Environmental contaminants – completed/ongoing projects on both captive and wild BV populations: veterinary drugs, lead, poison
  • Standardization of methods – IBM is often cited as a fantastic example
  • Energy infrastructure – some great examples of effective monitoring and mitigation of overhead cables across the BV range in Europe
  • Demographic studies – studies for the Alps, Pyrenees completed and being updated
  • Genetics – used continuously to inform captive breeding and release strategy; a great tool for monitoring development of the free-flying population
  • Human aspects – work completed, ongoing, planned with hunters, farmers, aviation sector, outdoor sports such as climbers etc. 
  • Collaborations – the Bearded Vulture community in Europe and the IBM are often referred to as a shining example of international collaboration in conservation

But - how do we translate all of this information into effective conservation action? We already have positive results – Bearded Vulture populations are increasing and expanding across much of their former range.

 

Captive-breeding

  • New strategy already applied to face challenges like West Nile Virus, aspergillosis, in a context of climate change and increasing difficulties with the transport of chicks.
  • EEP captive population: Demographic healthy pyramid shape age figure and genetic variability are long-term secured. 
  • Close contact with EEP coordinator + visits to zoos very effective (e.g. Parco Natura Viva)
  • 11 birds transported (6 new potential breeding pairs +1 foster pair)
  • 2018-2019: Good breeding season (New record 29 fledglings; +1 died by fledging). Potential for greater outputs in the future
  • Great coordination between partners/institutions (e.g.Tallinn chicks; Lot/Nordica airlines, EAZA, Tallinn zoo, RFZ)
  • Wonderful work by specialised captive-breeding centres that dedicate a lot of their resources to this – thank you! Also a long-term work – it can take several years before success (e.g. Parco Natura Viva)

 

Reintroduction projects

One of the Bearded Vultures released in Andalucia
One of the Bearded Vultures released in Andalucia
  • 2019 releases – 22 birds released in 6 sites (5 Grands Causses, 2 Baronnies, 2 Vercors, 2 Maestrazgo, 9 Andalusia, 2 Corsica). Three young released in Grands Causses dead
  • Maestrazgo – new project started last year; enhances and supports metapopulation approach, bridge between populations. Translocation of non-breeding adults from the Pyrenees on an experimental phase – so far 3. Two of them back in the Pyrenees.
  • GypConnect – significant mortality of vultures in the Causses (11 since 2012, diverse causes). 14% of dead vultures x-rayed with lead pellets; Poisoning cases too; 
  • GypConnect - 2 pairs established in Aude, 1 pair in Grands Causses (both males), 2 adults established in Vercors, 1 in Baronnies. Importance of close monitoring and veterinary analysis for mortality id. Efforts to investigate and prosecute actions.
  • Release strategy for 2020 presented. Continued investment in Gypconnect and Andalusia, central Alps will only get birds of high genetic value.
  • New release site in the Alpine reintroduction project – Bavaria, which will work together with the NP Hohe Tauern. Releases will be done alternately. 1st releases in 2021?
  • Planning pipeline: in normal conditions next reintroduction project in Bulgaria, if EEP allows and without damaging ongoing reintroduction projects. Successful Griffon Vulture reintroduction, ongoing Cinereous Vulture reintroduction, regional anti-poisoning programme.
  • Picos reintroduction project LIFE. Done through egg extraction of Pyrenean clutches with low breeding success (3%) and raised through puppets
  • Picos: 38 eggs removed, 21 chicks released (28 if including period before LIFE). 20 still alive. 
  • Picos: 2 established pairs, first breeding attempt 2017

 

Andorra & Pyrenees

  • Andorra: 1 breeding pair, supplementary feeding sites, monitoring through cameras, education programme
  • 20th anniversary PACT – protocol between Govern d´Andorra & ADN focussed on the conservation of the species. 
  • Youtube channel with videos from nest cameras with almost 1,5m visualizations – wide impact!
  • French Pyrenees: increase of population (16 to 44 pairs, 25% Pyrenean population), regular spreading towards the eastern Pyrenees, increased density; Productivity low, but has remained relatively stable (unlike Spanish Pyrenees); distribution increased with regular winter supplementary feeding. Productivity impacted by protected areas (abundance of food), an abundance of griffon vultures (negative) & history of breeding; great monitoring network (Réseau Casseur d´Os, 350 people)
  • Breeding failures: weather, experience & disturbance impacts important – direct and differed, have increased in recent years. Up to 30% of breeding output in a given year can be cancelled by helicopter overflight in the French Pyrenees. ZSM (500-800m core, 1000m buffer) allow to negotiate the temporary regulation of activities around bearded vulture nests – an interesting model for other countries. Protocol for overflights ZSM negotiated with French government, but training needs recurrent; same for police and air ambulance; More difficult with private companies. Air navigation plus Geomatika databases include ZSM
  • Recommendation to include the Pyrenees progressively in the IOD, IBM protocols

 

Alps

  • Alps (2019): the number of breeding pairs continues to increase, 63 territories (57 in 2018), 53 breeding pairs (52 in 2018), 38 fledged (29 in 2018). New record!
  • Alps (2019): 1st breeding attempt for 6 territories, successful breeding in the most northern pair. Good developments in the southern Alps – more breeding + engagement from Italian partners. New nest camera in Aosta. Breeding in the Écrins continues.
  • The proportion of wild-hatched young is increasing – the marking of these is crucial! 3 wild-hatched juvenile tagged in 2019 (bringing the total to 9)
  • Juvenile wild hatched tend to disperse less than released young
  • Juvenile wild-hatched visit neighbouring successful territories. Juv. in the territory may not be the own territory´s young!
  • First Pyrenean bird detected breeding in the alps (genetic monitoring!)
  • IBM: crucial to continue to monitor and take conservation management actions
  • IOD: great citizen science project, valued by participants (evaluation), great hook for engagement with vulture communications. But some management of volunteers needed for effectiveness (Stelvio model)
  • Photography as a potent monitoring and communications tool, but disturbance an issue. Photographers do have a role to play.

 

Morocco

  • Confirmed presence in the area where 3 pairs supposed to be present
  • Survival and persistence in the high atlas
  • Few juveniles were seen. Is there poor breeding?
  • Lots of food for large part of the year, seemingly no threats
  • Difficult logistics. Finding nests is a priority

 

Armenia

  • 11-12 pairs, slight increase
  • Good breeding success

 

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