Have you previously heard about the story of Kajazo and Alex? The Bearded Vulture Kajazo is a human imprinted male, which means that he recognizes humans as his species. However, he can be an excellent foster parent to a chick, and therefore, a valuable part to the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) as part of EAZA's EEP, which breeds the species in captivity for conservation purposes. But to act as a foster parent, he needs to go through the entire breeding period, and here is where Alex comes in as his human keeper!
Before Kajazo became a part of the Bearded Vulture EEP, he lived in a zoo where he was hand-reared for too long and therefore became imprinted to humans. So, when he reached sexual maturity, he recognized humans as its species since they reared him as a chick. Even so, he plays a valuable part in the reintroduction or restocking of the species to the wild! Now, he manages to rear one Bearded Vulture chick at Vallcalent where he is based every year, allowing the chick to go through natural rearing, and therefore, to live in the wild if released or breed in captivity in the future if it is kept within the captive stock. To do so, he first needs to go through the entire breeding season with Alex - his human keeper!
Kajazo and Alex - breeding period
Kajazo and Alex became a 'pair' in 2009. Alex Llopis is the Captive Breeding Vultures Manager at the VCF and the Bearded Vulture EEP Coordinator. On top of these duties, Alex has to spend one hour a day with Kajazo during the breeding period between September to February/March — so what does this entail? In early autumn, the staff at Vallcallent provide sticks and wool to the aviaries for nest building purposes. Alex and Kajazo built the nest together, and then after a few weeks, a dummy egg is placed in the nest. Both take turns in incubating the clutch since Bearded Vultures share responsibilities in incubation tasks. So, in February or March, when a chick hatches at the centre, it needs to be reared introduced in a Bearded Vulture nest within the next week. Then, one of the chicks every year are introduced in the nest constructed by Kajazo's and Alex. Hopefully, Kajano accepts the chick and becomes a foster parent, doing a wonderful job in raising the chick. That's the time that Alex stops visiting the aviary to avoid human imprinting.
Below, you can watch the efforts of what it takes to rear a chick in captivity, with the help of Kajano.
Vallcalent Specialized Breeding Centre
The Centre de Fauna de Vallcalent is property of the Generalitat de Catalonia. Thanks to an agreement the VCF made with Generalitat de Catalonia, the VCF is managing the Bearded Vulture Specialised Breeding Unit within the centre. Following bird distribution strategy between specialized breeding centres, this Unit plays a crucial role inside the EEP, because it specializes on artificial incubation, receiving the pairs which are reproducing very badly or not at all in other entities and are requiring technical support.
There are currently three breeding pairs in Vallcalent, and two additional pairs that reached their sexual maturity, but did not breed this year. These pairs are the most challenging ones within the Bearded Vulture EEP and are sent to Vallcalent Specialised Breeding Centre because with the expertise and experience of Alex Llopis (VCF's Vultures Captive Breeding Manager & Bearded Vulture EEP Coordinator) and the facilities at the centre these pairs have a better chance of breeding.
Captive-breeding Bearded Vultures
The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) coordinates the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network (EEP) of zoos, specialized breeding centres, recovery centres and private collections on behalf of EAZA. This involves closely working with our colleagues across Europe to ensure the best breeding results from the 180 birds within the Network. Thanks to these captive breeding efforts, since 1978, a total of 585 Bearded Vultures chicks have been produced in captivity, out of which, 343 have been released into the wild to reintroduce or restock the species population across Europe!
You can help us with our Bearded Vulture captive-breeding work, which plays a crucial part in the comeback of the species in Europe, by donating to the Vulture Conservation Foundation — thank you for your support!