2013-12-19 - 46 cape griffon vultures found poisoned in South Africa. Latest in a string of poisoning incidents that proves that this threat is decimating vultures across the African continent

Photo by P. Hancock
Photo by P. Hancock

 

In recent months there have been increasing reports of widespread use of poison impacting wildlife across Africa. Lions and other predators are poisoned in retaliation for depredation on livestock, while the use of poisoned bait to kill elephants has been reported with increasing frequency, both to facilitate poaching and in retaliation for crop-damage. In one recent incident, 400-600 vultures died after feeding on a poisoned elephant carcass in the vicinity of the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia. Last July 65 Cape griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres) were poisoned by a South African farmer using a chemical called carbofuran. Last month 37 white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) were found poisoned in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in South Africa.

 

Now, in the latest incident, 46 cape griffon vultures have been found last week poisoned in the Eastern Cape province, also in South Africa, close to two sheep carcasses – the poisoning incident was detected only because one of the vultures had a tracking device from a project run by our colleagues from Vulpro. Local conservationists suspect that carbofuran was again used.

 

The spike in vulture poisoning across southern Africa calls for immediate action from government agencies and other stakeholders. Vulture poisoning is becoming worse than during the 1970s and 1980s when such incidents were common environmental crimes. Good conservation work and lobbying brought vulture poisoning down to only a few incidents per year by now the situation is worse than ever.

 

All vulture species are generally declining in Africa, with poisoning being the biggest threat. The cape griffon vulture is considered Vulnerable at global level, with a declining population trend. Vultures are keystone species that play vital roles in maintaining ecosystem health. Their removal and depletion will have a number of cascading negative ecological effects as well as adverse impacts on human health. For example, the precipitous decline in three vulture species on the Indian sub-continent over the last 20 years has resulted in a number of problems emerging due to the vultures no longer being able to fulfil their role of removing the carcasses of dead animals from the environment. A proliferation of feral dogs and a substantial increase in diseases such as rabies have been documented and can be linked directly to this decline. Similar impacts are anticipated in Africa.

 

The VCF and its partners have been working on anti-poisoning activities, campaigns and programmes in Europe. Recognizing the extent of the problem in Africa, in April 2014, the VCF is co-organising, together with the Junta de Andalucia, a workshop bringing together key European and African experts on this issue.

 

For more information on this latest poisoning incident, please contact the Cape Griffon poison information center at nesher@tiscali.co.za

 

2013-12-17 - New film online

The Swiss Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (ProBartGeier) has just launched a new film on bearded vultures. The short piece was made by Lucas Pitsch, who has been filming this species, and the activities of the reintroduction project in the Alps, for many years. The film has many inpsiring images of vultures flying in their spectacular mountain habitat. You can go directly to the film here >>

2013-12-17 - Spanish bearded vulture researcher gets prize from University of Berne

 

The 2013 Prize for Environmental Research was awarded to Dr. Antoni Margalida, for his dissertation on the population of Bearded Vultures in Europe. For over 20 years, Antoni Margalida has researched, monitored, documented and helped contribute to the conservation of Europe’s Bearded Vultures. Margalida´s commitment and passion for this species has been a powerful force for the protection and study of the Bearded Vulture population in the Pyrenees, and also the successful project to reintroduce bearded vultures in the Alps.

 

Bearded vultures have been slowly increasing in the Pyrenees, and have been reintroduced into the Alps (in an ongoing project led by the VCF – 30 pairs in 2013), in one of the most celebrated wildlife comeback in Europe. The VCF aim is to reconnect these two populations, and thus we are collaborating in a reintroduction project in the Cevénnes-French Massif central, with the objective to try to promote movements and genetic flow between the Pyrenean and the Alpine populations.

 

For more information about the Prize for Environmental Research visit http://www.ufp.unibe.ch/

 

Antoni Margalida (far left) receiving the prize at the University of Berne (photo U. of Berne)
Antoni Margalida (far left) receiving the prize at the University of Berne (photo U. of Berne)

2013-12-11 - First Griffon vultures released yesterday in Cyprus to restock the small island population. The last batch of griffon vultures had arrived from Crete two weeks ago

Griffon vultures are on the verge of extinction in Cyprus, with only 10 birds and two regular breeding pairs remaining on that Mediterranean island. The birds were victims to poison, direct persecution and lack of food.

 

In the last two years a project was implemented to reverse the conservation fortunes of this species. The two years ‘Gypas’ Project, funded by the European Union, and led by the Game Fund, with BirdLife Cyprus, the Department of Forestry, the Natural History Museum of Crete and Gortyna Municipality in Crete, is about to finish. During the last 24 months dozens of actions were carried out all over the country, and in particular in the west of the island, where the remaining griffons live and breed.

 

Anti-poisoning information material and campaigns were implemented, and two new feeding sites for vultures were established, but the project also included an urgency restocking of the extremely small population, which could easily be wiped out due to chance events (bad weather, etc.).As a result, some new hacking cages were built, to house griffon vultures from Crete, where the population has grown in the last few years to reach now 240 breeding pairs (and over 700 individuals). In total 25 griffon vultures from Crete, mostly birds that entered rehabilitation centers because they were found weak, lost or poisoned, were sent to Cyprus – the last 10 arrived two weeks ago (see photos).

 

These griffons were put in acclimatization cages, and yesterday saw the release of the first birds – that had arrived some months ago. All the birds are released with GPS tags, so that their movements can be closely monitored. They also have wing tags and darvic colour rings.

 

The VCF has participated in an expert conference organized under this project, where we have advised the Game Fund on a variety of issues, including cage design and anti-poisoning activities. You can find more information on project Gypas at http://www.gypas.org/en/index.html

 

2013-12-09 - First-ever captive breeding of the endangered Canary Islands Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus majorensis

 

The Egyptian vulture is a globally endangered species, which has been declining across its large global range, sometimes dramatically. There are a number of unique island populations, usually sedentary, unlike the mainland populations, which are migratory and winter in Africa and south Asia.

  

 

One such island population – recognized as a distinct sub-species (Neophron percnopterus majorensis), lives in the Canary Islands, where it is called guirre. The subspecies, formerly widespread in most of the archipelago, is now rare, only surviving in the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, where about 25-30 pairs breed (total population does not exceed 130 individuals). The guirre is one of the most emblematic and important species in the Canary islands, and has been receiving significant conservation attention for the last decade.

 

 

 

This year saw another milestone in the efforts to conserve the species – the wildlife rehabilitation center ofTop of FormTafira (Gran Canaria) managed to successfully breed in captivity this species, after several years of failed attempts. The rehabilitation center there, managed by the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, has a  pair, which cannot be released due to severe injuries.

 

 

 

Following a close protocol developed by Jose Antonio Donazar, and his team at the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC), and constantly supported by Alex Llopis from the VCF, the team at Tafira extracted the fertile egg soon after egg-laying, as in previous years the same female had destroyed the eggs. It was artificially incubated and fed artificially, with the help of an Egyptian vulture puppet, for the first few weeks, before being introduced it back to the male bird, who fed the young guirre until independence.

 

 

 

There are only 6 guires in captivity. In the past pairs had laid eggs, but this is the first time a chick was born and fledged.  This chick - a male, named Tamarán, after the native name for Gran Canaria - was then released into the wild in Fuerteventura, fitted with a satellite tag. It has spent the first months of its life with a group of conspecifics around the feeding point of Tiscamanita.

 

 

In the photos below you can see several aspects of this extraordinary adventure – all photos are from the Cabildo de Gran Canaria. Well done to them for this success, and we hope Tamarán will recruit into the wild population and will help this endangered sub-species.

2013-12-04 - Bearded vulture breeding season: First egg!

 

And the Oscar for the earliest breeder goes to… Marie Antoinette! She is a superb female bearded vulture paired with a male called Josef, in the facilities run by ASTERS – Conservatoire d´Espaces Naturels Haute Savoie (see photos).

 

 

 

Marie Antoinette has a curious story - Born in 1998 in Innsbruck Zoo, within the bearded vulture breeding network managed by the VCF, she was released into the wild as a young vulture on the 1st of June 1998 in Haute Savoie (French Alps). Five years later, precisely on the 19/05/2004, this magnificent female collided with a power line, and broke a wing. After a short period of rehabilitation, she was sent to the breeding center Asters where one month later received a mate – a male born in 1998 in the specialized breeding center in Haringsee, and kept for captive breeding.

 

 

 

Marie Antoinette and Josef laid their first clutch in 2005/2006, but only raised their first young in 2010 – this one was released into the wild in Vercors (southwest Alps). In 2011 they failed, but were successful again in 2011, raising a chick which was released in the Calfeisental valley in Central Switzerland. This year they were one of the earliest breeder too, laying an egg on the 8th December 2013, and successfully raising a chick, released in the reintroduction project in Cazorla (southern Spain) last June.

 

 

 

We hope they will again be successful this year – for the moment, they beat al lthe other pairs to lay the first egg of the bearded vulture breeding season. Bearded vultures are one of the earliest breeders in Europe – their timing perfectly adapted to have chicks in early spring, when many of the mountain herbivores on which they feed (when they die) have their first births – and birth complications! The snow and cold of their mountain realms does not deter them, and so they incubate through the cold winter months.

 

 

 

The Vulture Conservation Foundation is the coordinator of the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), a collaborative and coordinated network of over 30 zoos, wildlife parks, specialized breeding centers and private collections, that aims to breed the species in captivity for conservation purposes. The bearded vulture EEP is at the base of the ongoing reintroduction projects in the Alps, Cazorla (Southern Spain) and Cevennes (Central France). In the Alps they species is staging a remarkable comeback, with 30 established territories 100 years after it went extinct there.

 

2013-12-03 - Griffon vulture released in Bulgaria shows up in France

For the first time ever, a griffon vulture released in Bulgaria, as part of the restocking project there, has flow all the way to France, showing up in a feeding station in Baronnies last week (see photo).

 

Before, griffons released in Bulgaria had showed up as far north as Poland, and in northern Italy, but this is the first time a bird went beyond the Alps, confirming earlier studies that the griffon vulture in Europe does form one large pan-european population.

The bird in question is an adult female, wing tagged with the code K5H. This bird was shipped from Spain to Bulgaria in July 2012 and moved to the adaptation aviary above Sliven in August 2012. Two days after its arrival, on August 8th 2012, the bird escaped, together with several other experienced adults which had just arrived.

 


She was reported over the Atanasovsko Lake (Black Sea Coast) on August 28th 2012, then visited the only griffon natural colony in Eastern Rhodopi (Studen kladenets Reservoir) on September 8-9th 2012.  On September 17th, 2012 she was seen at Vrachanki Balkan, one of the four release sites in the Balkan Mountains included in the project.

In October-November 2012, K5H returned to her original release site above Sliven and joined the group of some 20-25 vultures constantly present in the area. In January-February 2013 she was seen again in Vrachanski Balkan and then kept going back and forth to Sliven-Kotel until May 15th 2013.

In May 2013 she was seen in Dadia, northeast  Greece, then in 4 sites across Bulgaria, but returned to Dadia by the end of the month (28.05), where she stayed until at least 1
st July. She now resurfaced in southern France.

 

Interestingly, the Bulgarian griffon was seen together with a Croatian-born griffon, with a colour ring coded CGU. The latter was ringed in the nest on the island of Cres on 9 May 2010, but moved west, and was already in France in July 2011. He has been seen since in a variety of places in southern France  (Cassagnes, Chamaloc, now in Baronnies).

 

It is well known that Croatian griffons move south across the Balkans, and that thousands of Spanish griffons move east to summer in the Alps, but movements from the Balkans to the west, or vice versa, are less common. This is the first time a Griffon has moved all the way from Bulgaria, across the Balkans and the Alps, to southern France.

 

Green Balkans is leading a LIFE+ project (LIFE08 NAT/BG/278), in partnership with FWFF and BPPS, aiming to restore vulture populations in Bulgaria, severely depleted because of direct persecution and poison. These threats seem to be under control, so one of the actions of the project is to reintroduce the griffon at four sites along the Balkan mountains (Stara Planina).  The species is presently confined to a few breeding colonies in the eastern Rodophes, on the border with Greece (67 breeding pairs this year).

 

Until now, 160 griffons have been released in Bulgaria under this project, and 80% of those came from Spain – the rest originated in France and in Zoos (through captive breeding, EEP). All of them have been marked, and they are closely monitored. A number of feeding stations have also been set up. Mortality rate so far is low (17+%), mostly because of electrocution, and the first breeding attempts in the wild have started two years ago – even though most of the birds released are too young to breed.

 

All these project activities are part of the long-term Balkan Vulture Action Plan (BVAP), initiated in 2002, and led by the VCF. The BVAP includes 8 countries and more than 30 local NGOs, working together vulture conservation.

 

The VCF strives to restore vulture populations and range across Europe, and is thus giving a contribution to this valuable project. It is hoped it will result in the reestablishment of the griffon across Bulgaria.

 

Photo: Association Vautours en Baronnies
Photo: Association Vautours en Baronnies

2013-11-29 - Another mass poisoning of vultures in Africa – 37 white-backed vultures dead in Zululand, South Africa

 

In recent years there have been increasing reports of widespread use of poison impacting wildlife across Africa. Lions and other predators are poisoned in retaliation for depredation on livestock. The use of poisoned bait to kill elephants has been reported with increasing frequency, both to facilitate poaching and in retaliation for crop-damage. In one recent incident, 400-600 vultures died after feeding on a poisoned elephant carcass in the vicinity of the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia’s Caprivi-region. Last July 54 Cape Vultures were poisoned by a South African farmer using a chemichal called carbofuran.

 

The latest mass poisoning incident was reported last week (21 November 2013), when wildlife rangers came across the carcasses of 37 white-backed vultures, in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. The vultures were found in the immediate vicinity of a carcass of an elephant that had died a month previously, almost certainly poisoned. Twenty nine of the vultures had their heads removed, most likely for use in the traditional medicine trade. At least three of the vultures were adults, which mean that additional juvenile birds may die on their nests.

 

The Vulture carcasses have been taken for toxicology analysis to determine the type of poison used and the Organised Crime Unit has investigated the scene. The remains of the elephant and the vultures have now been burnt to ensure further deaths from scavenging from the poisoned elephant carcass do not occur. 

 

All vulture species are generally declining in Africa, with poisoning being the biggest threat. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, where this latest incident occurred, remains the last stronghold of vultures in Zululand - presently there are about 11 pairs of lappet-faced vultures, 5 pairs of white-headed vultures and 390 pairs of white-backed vultures remaining in the park (André Botha and EWT).

 

Vultures are keystone species that play vital roles in maintaining ecosystem health. Their removal and depletion will have a number of cascading negative ecological effects as well as adverse impacts on human health. For example, the precipitous decline in three vulture species on the Indian sub-continent over the last 20 years has resulted in a number of problems emerging due to the vultures no longer being able to fulfil their role of removing the carcasses of dead animals from the environment. A proliferation of feral dogs and a substantial increase in diseases such as rabies have been documented and can be linked directly to this decline. Similar impacts are anticipated in Africa.

 

The VCF and its partners have been working on anti-poisoning activities, campaigns and programmes in Europe. Recognizing the extent of the problem in Africa, in April 2014, the VCF is co-organising, together with the Junta de Andalucia, a workshop bringing together key European and African experts on this issue.

 

For more information on this latest poisoning incident, or on South Africa’s vulture conservation programme, please contact andreb@ewt.org.za

 

2013-11-28 - Young Egyptian vultures from the Balkans suffer high loss during their first migration – would they fare differently if they travelled with adults? Data suggests that the overland route

 

As part of the LIFE+ project “The return of the Neophron” (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152, started in 2011, finishing in 2016, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds), ten young Egyptian vultures from nests in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Albania were fitted last July with satellite tags by our Balkan colleagues .

 

The birds were thus followed closely in their dispersion and then migration, through data received at regular intervals. The results obtained were somehow unexpected, but nevertheless important to unravel the conservation challenges facing this species in southeastern Europe – only 2 out of the 10 young survived their first migration in 2013. From the deatd juveniles, one was killed near his nest, probably by a terrestrial predator, but seven others died during migration, two on Greek islands, and 5 drowned in the high Mediterranean while trying to cross to Egypt and Libya straight down from Greece.

 

Only one of the juveniles that migrated to Africa across the Mediterranean survived – called Pachalis, he crossed the sea (over 400 km in a direct line) on September 14. He then continued across the Sahara – and is now wintering in Niger.

 

The only other surviving juvenile from 2013 – named Sanie, migrated through Turkey and the Middle-East, and is now wintering in Chad.

 

Egyptian vulture researchers and the project managers are now debating the importance of the once-common post-breeding roosts of Egyptian vultures for safe migration and enhanced juvenile survival of young Egyptian vultures. These gatherings are now virtually gone, as the species continues to decline across the region. This could mean that young Egyptian vultures may now attempt to do the trip alone, rather than in the company of other (more experienced?) individuals.

 

Results of this tagging suggest that the Mediterranean crossing is very dangerous, resulting in a significant mortality. Only one of the birds that attempted the sea crossing so far has survived, while several of the birds that travelled via Turkey and the Middle-East made it to Africa. The only adult tagged so far within the project (in 2012) also flew overland to Africa through Turkey and the Middle-East, but it may be possible that some adult birds also cross the Mediterranean. Tagging more adults from the Balkans would be necessary to try to determine this puzzle.

 

You can see the routes taken by all Egyptian vultures tagged so far in this project here

 

Egyptian Vultures. Photo by Angel Sanchez
Egyptian Vultures. Photo by Angel Sanchez

2013-11-27 - Bearded vulture shot and killed in the French Pyrénées Atlantiques

 

One would think that direct persecution and the shooting of vultures was a thing of the past, particularly in Western Europe. Not so. Last Sunday an adult male bearded vulture was found shot and heavily wounded near a railways line between Bayonne and Saint-Jean Pied de Port, in the westernmost extremity of the Pyrenees, in the French Basque country.

 

The bird was taken immediately into rehabilitation (Hegalaldia wildlife center), in a very poor state – it was extremely weak, could not stand on its own feet, was very emaciated (3,6 kg rather than the normal 5 kg). It had 6 lead pellets, in the wings, tail and in the upper body. Two days later, in spite of all the efforts by a team of veterinaries, the bird died.

 

The bird was well known to Pyrenean bearded vulture researchers, as it was ringed. It had been marked in 2000 in Aragon (Spain) by the Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos (FCQ), and named Benigno. In 2008 Benigno finally established a territory in Navarra (on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees), but had not yet started to breed. There are only 8 established territories in Navarra, four of which are breeding. In the whole Pyrenees, the biggest population of this species in Europe, there are 165 established territories, of which 106 attempted to breed in 2013.

 

Bearded vultures are unique, very large (2,8 m of wingspan) and easily recognized, so it is highly likely that whoever shot this bird knew what he/she was doing. Shooting a bearded vulture is a crime under French law, and has potential penalty of a 15,000€ fine and one year in prison.

 

Bearded vultures have been slowly increasing in the Pyrenees, and have been reintroduced into the Alps (in an ongoing project led by the VCF – 30 pairs in 2013), in one of the most celebrated wildlife comeback in Europe. The VCF aim is to reconnect these two populations, and thus we are collaborating in a reintroduction project in the Cevénnes-French Massif central, with the objective to try to promote movements and genetic flow between the Pyrenean and the Alpine populations.

 

Adult mortality is one of the main drivers of species decline. Millions of Euros have been spent by NGOs and government to protect and improve the species in those two European mountain chains. It would be a pity to jeopardize this with an increase in persecution. Let´s hope this event will continue to be an isolated and aberrant action.

 

(The VCF would like to thank staff from Hegalaldia and LPO Pyrénées Vivantes for all their efforts to try to recue this bird)

 

Adult bearded vulture where it belongs - up in the mountain sky. Photo by Hansruedi Weyrich
Adult bearded vulture where it belongs - up in the mountain sky. Photo by Hansruedi Weyrich

2013-11-25 - New scientific paper uncovers significant decline in Southern Africa’s bearded vultures

 

A recently published paper (Krűger et al, 2013, Bird Conservation International: Trends in territory occupancy, distribution and density of the Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis in southern Africa) demonstrated that territory occupancy, distribution and density of the isolated Bearded Vulture population in southern Africa have all declined  significantly.

 

Globally, two distinct subspecies of bearded vulture are recognized – G. b. barbatus, in Europe, Asia and north Africa (where they are on the verge of extinction), and G. b. merodionalis, in Ethiopia, east Africa (where only a few pairs remain) and southern Africa.

 

The authors of the paper have now analyzed territory occupancy, distribution and density of G.b. meridionalis in southern Africa between two time periods - 1960-1999 and 2000-2012. Of concern is that  they have found that the number of occupied breeding territories has decreased by 32%-51%, while the breeding range has decreased by 27% over the past five decades. Breeding densities also decreased by 20%. The current population is estimated at 352-390 individuals. The species has been uplisted to Critically Endangered in the red data list for the birds of southern Africa. (Photo: a G. b. meridionalis, by Sonja Krűger)

 

Photo: Sonja Krűger
Photo: Sonja Krűger

2013-11-25 - The bearded vulture breeding season has just started!

During the lasts weeks almost all pairs of bearded vultures in the EEP (ex-situ European Endangered Species breeding programme) have started to show breeding activity. The birds are very excited, with a lot of interaction between the partners. At the moment they can be observed copulating up to 20 times a day. Further they are transporting nest-material, like branches and sheepwool, into their nests, to have a comfortable place for the egg and the nestling. The picture shows an adult bird flying to the nest with sheep wool in his beak. 

 

We hope to increase the number of breeding pairs, and therefor the number of fledglings, during this season. Maybe some new pairs, like those from Green Balkans, Torreferrussa, Walsrode or Richard Faust center, will start to breed and reproduce successfully. Good Luck to them!

2013-11-22 - VCF and Junta de Andalucía work together to help the griffon restocking project in Bulgaria

 

Following a request from the NGO Green Balkans, who is leading a LIFE+ project to reintroduce the griffon vulture in some parts of Bulgaria, the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and the Junta de Andalucía worked together to send 35 griffons vultures to that country.

 

These were handed over to the Bulgarian colleagues this week in Sevilla, during an official event organized by the local government (also marking the sending of two black vultures to a reintroduction project in Catalonia). The griffon vultures will be transported by land, in a 3700km trip to southeastern Europe. After arrival they will spend the quarantine period in the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre - Stara Zagora (run by Green Balkans), and will then be released  next Spring in the four project areas in Bulgaria: national park Central Balkan, and nature reserves Vrachanski Balkan, Blue Rocks and Kotlenska Stara Planina Mountain.

 

Spain has the largest griffon vulture population in the world (25,000 pairs, circa 100,000 individuals), which underwent a significant increase in the last few decades. Every Summer-Fall, hundreds of griffons, mostly young in their first dispersion travels, are found weak, injured or starving across the country, and enter rehabilitation centers. This year the Junta de Andalucía and the VCF reserved 35 of them for the reintroduction/restocking project in Bulgaria, and together they have dealt with all the legal permits, and the necessary veterinary controls, to send the vultures to Bulgaria.

 

Green Balkans is leading a LIFE+ project (LIFE08 NAT/BG/278), started in 2010, and that will finish next year, aiming to restore vulture populations in Bulgaria, severely depleted because of direct persecution and poison. These threats seem to be under control, so one of the actions of the project is to reintroduce the griffon both in the Central Balkan mountains and in SW Bulgaria– the species is presently confined to a few breeding colonies in the eastern Rodophes, on the border with Greece (67 breeding pairs this year).

 

Until now, 160 griffons have been released in Bulgaria under this project, and 80% of those came from Spain – the rest originated in France and in Zoos (through captive breeding, EEP). All of them have been marked, and they are closely monitored. A number of feeding stations have also been set up. Mortality rate so far is low (17+%), mostly because of electrocution, and the first breeding attempts in the wild have started two years ago – even though most of the birds released are too young to breed.

 

All these project activities are part of the long-term Balkan Vulture Action Plan (BVAP), initiated in 2002, and led by the VCF. The BVAP includes 8 countries and more than 30 local NGOs, working together vulture conservation.

 

The LIFE+ project led by Green Balkans is a result of a collaborative effort between local and international organisations, including the VCF, the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU), FWFF-Bulgaria and BPPB.

 

The VCF strives to restore vulture populations and range across Europe, and is thus giving a contribution to this valuable project. It is hoped it will result in the reestablishment of the griffon across Bulgaria.

 

2013-11-18 - Black vulture shot in Lebanon. Middle East continues to be a sink for vultures and other soaring birds

 

The indiscriminate, widespread and intense killing of vultures, eagles and other birds continues unabated in the Middle East – unfortunately illegal hunting is still rampant there, with a strong impact on the millions of birds that pass through the region in their Spring and Fall migrations.

 

This Fall was no different – the news from the field indicated another intense barrage of fire waiting everything moving south. It was thus with no surprise – but with sadness –that VCF received recently the news that one black vulture was among the many victims, shot in Lebanon – Hrar, a village located in the Akkar region , in the north of the country.

 

The species does not breed in the Middle East any longer, and is very rare in the region, no doubt due to the intense direct persecution. Hunting in Lebanon is actually illegal, as the country authorıties pushed for a nation-wide ban, while preparing a revamped hunting legislation, which has been finally approved in December 2012. The hunting ban is still on, until the Lebanese minister of environment declares the opening of the hunting season through an official decree - however, the killing never stopped, with killers emptying their guns everyday close to schools, houses and people – a mockery of the law and of the authority of the Lebanese state.

 

One death exposed – how many other vultures and eagles have perished this year?

 

2013-11-15 The 2013 annual bearded vulture meeting in Aosta was a great success

The 2013 annual bearded vulture meeting in the regional news (in Italian). The VCF would like to thank the Regione Autonoma Valle d´Aosta, and the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso for all their support in co-organising this successful meeting.

2013-11-14 VCF in the news - Spanish black vultures going to France (in Spanish)

2013-11-12 Celebrating the comeback of the mountain king in the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting

Annual bearded vulture meeting, Rhèmes St. George, Aosta, November 2013
Annual bearded vulture meeting, Rhèmes St. George, Aosta, November 2013

 

Exactly one hundred years (and eleven days, to be more precise…) after the last bearded vulture in the Alps was killed in the Aosta valley (in 1913!), more than 60 bearded vulture experts, technical staff from several alpine national parks and representatives from NGOs have met this weekend precisely on the spot where the last specimen was shot  - the beautiful valley of Rhêmes, in Aosta. The experts and technicians spent two days discussing and planning the next steps in one of the great conservation success stories of the last decades: the reintroduction of the species into the Alps. Spearheaded by the VCF, in a multinational effort covering 4 countries, and with many partners, the bearded vulture alpine reintroduction project brought back this magnificent bird to the alpine valleys -in 2013 22 breeding pairs produced 16 fledged young.  Well done to these 60 people, and their organizations, for making this happen.  The VCF would like to thank the Regione de Aosta, and the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, for all their support in hosting a very successful annual bearded vulture meeting. See you next year in Mercantour!

 

2013-11--05 - Spain gives 6 more black vultures to the French reintroduction project

VCF organised the logistics and the transport

 

Six black vultures (Aegypius monachus) were transported this weekend by a team from VCF from south and western Spain to southern France, where they will be released as part of the ongoing reintroduction project.

 

 

The birds are all wild born, and originate in Spain – the black vulture population has been increasing in this country and totals now more than 2,000 pairs, mostly in Extremadura and Andalusia. These birds were found tired, exhausted and/or wounded, and were received in rehabilitation centers in Extremadura (Los Hornos), and in Andalusia (Cordoba, Jaen and Huelva).

 

 

Following a request from the French authorities to the Spanish ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the regional government of Extremadura and Andalusia decided to collaborate, and reserved the black vultures that have entered their rehabilitation centers for the French reintroduction project.  The VCF quickly set up the whole operation to get all the legal documentation and organise the transport of the birds.

 

 

Black vultures went extinct in France more than 100 years ago, but a reintroduction project started in the early 90s in the Grands Causses. There 53 individuals were released between 1992 and 2004, both from wild origin (rehabilitation centers in Spain) and also from captive breeding.

 

 

In 2004 black vultures started to be released in two other release sites, in the southern Alps – in Baronnies and in the gorges du Verdon. The French projects are led by the NGOs “Association Vautours en Baronnies”, and LPO PACA, and are carried out within the framework of the National Action Plan for the recovery of the Black vulture population in France (2011-2016), prepared by LPO and supported by the France ministry.There are now more than 28 breeding pairs of black vultures at the three release sites, and while releases will continue for some time, the prospects for the new black vulture breeding population are very good – yet another great wildlife comeback in Europe, only made possible by a joint, solid cross border collaboration between the French and the Spanish ministries, the Juntas de Extremadura and Andalusia and NGOs like the VCF, Association Vautours en Baronnies, LPO, and the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation.

 

 

The six vultures transported this weekend fared well during the 1400km long road trip, and are now acclimatizing themselves in large aviary, and will be released over the next three years. See photos below - all photos by VCF.

 

2013-11-01 - Summer is just over – but for bearded vultures the breeding season is now starting!

 

The fall migration is still in full swing, but for bearded vultures (both in the wild and in captivity), the 2014 breeding seasons is just starting.

 

Bearded vultures are one of the earliest breeders in Europe – their timing perfectly adapted to have chicks in early spring, when many of the mountain herbivores on which they feed (when they die) have their first births – and birth complications! The snow and cold of their mountain realms does not deter them, and so they incubate through the cold winter months.

 

The Vulture Conservation Foundation is the coordinator of the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), a collaborative and coordinated network of over 30 zoos, wildlife parks, specialized breeding centers and private collections, that aims to breed the species in captivity for conservation purposes.

 

Animal collections in individual zoos are typically too small by themselves to be of much value to long-term conservation. Therefore, cooperative international or regional ex situ breeding programmes are required to form larger, viable populationsThe EEP is the most intensive type of population management for a species kept in European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) zoos. Each EEP has a coordinator who is assisted by a species committee. For the bearded vulture, but also for the black vulture and the Egyptian vultures, the VCF collects information on the status of all the animals kept in EAZA zoos, produces a studbook, carries out demographical and genetic analyses, produces a plan for the future management of the species and provides recommendations to participating institutions.

 

This is a busy time for the VCF bearded vulture EEP coordinators (Dr. Hans Frey and Dr. Alex Llopis), as birds are starting to show breeding behavior. Colleagues from the specialized breeding center in Andalucia have reported the first copulations, while in Bulgaria a young pair is showing some signs of pair binding.

 

Hopes are high in the Green Balkans wildlife rehabilitation center

 

The pair in the Green Balkans center is rather typical of the animals in the EEP.  The birds are owned by the VCF and were given in 2008 to our Bulgarian partners. Until last year they have shown nothing other than polite ignorance to each other – nothing unexpected, as bearded vultures normally start to breed in captivity when they are 8 or more years.

 

Last year the first signs of mating behavior were seen, as the two birds started constructing… two separate nests! This year though things have advanced a bit - the female has been constructing a nest with pieces of wool and twigs, and has allowed the male to come closer and spend the night near the nesting platform – the very first modest attempts for establishing a pair. You can see footage of this young female collecting nesting material below.

 

In Bulgaria, like elsewhere in the 30 centers in the bearded vulture EEP, love is in the air - at least for the bearded vultures! May they breed well, since these pairs are really the source of the young used in the reintroduction projects in the Alps and in Andalucia.

2013-10-31 - Black Vulture reintroduction project in France register more successes - first breeding in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region!

The Black Vulture is the only vulture species that went extinct in France. A first reintroduction project started at the Grands Causses in 1992, and lasted until 2004 – this was very successful and led to a breeding population totaling 20 pairs as of today.

In 2004-2005 two other release sites were selected in the Southern Alps - at the Massif of Baronnies, with releases since 2004, and the Gorges du Verdon, with first birds released in 2005. In the table below you can the number of birds released so far in the Southern Alps.

 

                                                   Baronnies

Verdon

Nb of birds released by way of the hacking method

       10

      9

Nb of birds released by making use of cages

       26

    14

Total of birds released

       36

    23

Nb of birds still to be released

       14

    27

       

In most of these sites, the reintroduction of the griffon vulture has preceded, and paved the way, for the reintroduction of the black vulture –showing again that the former species can be a proxy for the reintroduction of other more sensitive ones. In Verdon, for example 91 griffons vultures were released at Rougon from 1999 to 2005. A natural colony was established in 2002 and since then 222 juvenile griffon have flown off the cliffs of the Grand Canyon. In 2013, the griffon colony includes 300 individuals, hundreds of pairs and vital area of around 600,000 hectares.

Quick success in Baronnies and Verdon.

In Baronnies the first black vulture breeding attempt took place in 2009, followed by successful reproduction in 2010. This year, seven pairs attempted to breed, and there are about 30 birds present all year round.

In Verdon, results were equally fast - the first two black vultures were released only in August 2005, but by 2011 a pair had started to exhibit breeding behavior (repeated copulations and nest building).They then moved to Baronnies where they also tried to breed (without success). This year finally a pair has successfully bred in the Gorges du Verdon – the birds were already incubating by end of February, and the chick hatched between 12 and 18 April – it was ringed on the 19th June. Last month, on the 3rd September, the first young black vulture to fledge in Haute Provence in the last 150 years has finally left the nest. It was named Phenix, to mark this extraordinary comeback.

A crazy idea - but it worked!

These results show that if you reduce the threat factors and manage the habitat adequately, endangered wildlife responds well and rapidly. This wonderful story – the return of an iconic species to France – started more than 20 years ago, when some pioneers had the vision, the ambition and the tenacity to start these projects. Counting with a growing support of many volunteers, institutions, associations and private partners, the project grew into a huge success story. The reintroduction projects are managed by LPO PACA & the association “Vautours en Baronnies”, in collaboration with the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation, «Vautours en Haute-Provence», la LPO Mission Rapaces, European zoos, rehabilitation centers in Spain and the Spanish ministry of agriculture.

Reintroductions sites in France
Reintroductions sites in France
Black vulture nest in Baronnies, Southern Alps, France (photo C. Tessier)
Black vulture nest in Baronnies, Southern Alps, France (photo C. Tessier)

2013-10-29 - SEO/BirdLife develops precious tool in the fight against poison

 

The use of poisoned bait is one of the predator-control methods most used in the world and one of the main threats to biodiversity such as vultures and large carnivores.

 

Anti-poison action Plans and protocols are instrumental in the fight against this threat, and have been successfully used in Spain.  Now, as part of a LIFE+ project, SEO/BirdLife has produced a manual in English with draft plans and protocols to establish an effective anti-poisoning campaign

Poison is a real threat to biodiversity, both in Europe and in the rest of the world. Within Europe, poison is used across the continent, but often intensively in the Mediterranean basin. In Spain alone it is estimated that more than 7,000 specimens of endangered species have died from poison in the last decade, including hundreds of black and bearded vultures..

 

To address this threat to wildlife, many Spanish regions and autonomous governments have developed strategies, action plans and specific protocols to deal with this threat. Further, several years of implementation have resulted in a crucial pool of knowledge and practical experience about what works well and what doesn´t.
 
In Spain, five autonomies have plans or strategies that have proved effective in the fight against poison, and are considered a benchmark across the continent : Andalusia, Aragon , Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and Valencia. Experience coming from these regions has shown that where there is a legal document underpinning an action plan against the poisoning of wildlife, results do appear.


In the framework of the Life + project VENE
NO, SEO/BirdLife has now developed draft Action Plans and Protocols, and promoted them across the remaining regions in Spain that still did not have them. As a result, draft new anti-poisoning plans for Asturias, Cantabria, Canary Islands, Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Galicia, La Rioja, and Murcia were developed, all now waiting for official approval.

 

 A generic draft Action Plan has now been translated into English and can be downloaded here. It include issues and approaches on prevention, deterrence and surveillance of illegal uses of poisoned baits, increasing tax effectiveness to combat this threat, controlling the sale of toxic substances susceptible to be used in the preparation of poisoned baits, and improving collaboration and coordination among all actors involved in the fight against poison.

    
The action plans and protocols are available in English and Castilian here


2013-10-23 - More Rüppell’s Vultures Gyps rueppellii seen in Portugal

Following the tagging of a Rüppell’s vulture in Portugal last June (see news section below), a number of other individuals of this African species have been seen in Portugal in the last few months.

 

On 15 August a Swedish observer (Magnus Elfwing) reported 1 near Portas do Ródão (Vila Velha do Ródão). A week later (26/08) one immature was reported by Georg Schreier in the Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana, together with 150 griffons (Gyps fulvus) and 5 black vultures (Aegypius monachus). On the 2nd September another Gyps rueppellii  was seen between Portalegre and Arronches by Raquel Tavares (together with 4 griffons). Already this month (04/10) one was observed between Raposeira (Vila do Bispo) and Sagres, together with 8 griffons, by several observers. One day earlier, one had been spotted feeding with 120 griffon and 7 black vultures at the Feeding Station for Scavenger Birds in Contenda (Moura).


Ruppell´s vulture - globally classified as “Threatened”,  is a Sub-Saharan species, but number of records in the Iberian peninsula has been increasing significantly during the last decade, and mixed pairs (with griffon) have even tried to breed (unsuccesfully). It is thought that these African vultures mix with wintering griffons in West Africa, and then come up to Iberia during the spring in their flocks.

 

In the photo below you can see a Rüppell’s Vulture (left) and Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus, right) together at the Moura feeding station. The photo was taken by Alfonso Godino , from the LIFE Habitat Lince Abutre.

 

2013-10-15 - VCF founder receives Dutch Royal distinction

The Dutch royal family has granted Mr. Jan Louwman and Mrs. Hanneke Louwman a Royal distinction, in recognition of their special services to the Dutch society and the world.
For vultures too, the Louwmans have played an outstanding role. For many years they kept and bred vultures and many other species in their breeding center in Wassenaar, and have contributed substantially to the establishment of breeding programs for various endangered species, including the bearded and black vultures. Their deep engagement in education, scientific research and the sharing of knowledge has benefited countless vulture experts and enthusiasts. Today, many of the bearded vultures existing in the VCF captive breeding network go back to founder lines of the famous Wassenaar Wildlife Breeding Centre.
Jan and Hanneke Louwman were also committed conservationists, and thus it is no surprise that Jan was a founding member of the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture, which later evolved into the VCF. 


The VCF congratulates the Louwmans for this prestigious award and wishes them well for the future!

Foto from the ceremony for the Royal distinction from the  Dutch royal family to Mr. Jan Louwman and Mrs. Hanneke Louwman. (from the left: Hanneke Louwman, Jan Louwman, Evelyn Tewes, Hans Frey, Sigird Frey-Kubka, Jesùs Garzòn)
Foto from the ceremony for the Royal distinction from the Dutch royal family to Mr. Jan Louwman and Mrs. Hanneke Louwman. (from the left: Hanneke Louwman, Jan Louwman, Evelyn Tewes, Hans Frey, Sigird Frey-Kubka, Jesùs Garzòn)

2013-10-11 - The Egyptian vulture population in Andalusia stabilizes at 25 pairs

Photo by Angel Sanchez
Photo by Angel Sanchez

The Consejería de Medio Ambiente y Ordenación del Territorio of the Junta de Andalucía has informed that the decline of the Egyptian vulture in Andalucía has been arrested - in 2013 the number of breeding territories has stabilized at 25, like in the last few years, after decades of steep decreases.

 

This is without doubt the result of all the hard work and conservation investment put on by the Consejería, that has developed a regional plan for the restoration and conservation of the vultures (Plan de Recuperación y Conservación de Aves Necrófagas), and has implemented many monitoring and conservation actions. Among these, the anti-poisoning action plan merits emphasis, as poisoned baits are the main threat to the species. The regional government has mapped the main foraging areas of the species in Andalucía, and conducts intensive anti-poisoning surveys and preventive work in those sensitive areas year after year. The consequences are now starting to be seen – also showing that where adequate conservation investment is applied, the results are positive.

 

The VCF collaborates with the Junta de Andalucia in several vulture conservation projects.

2013-10-09 - Results of the annual census of summering Griffon Vultures in the Alps are out: 1800+ birds!

Photo by Angel Sanchez
Photo by Angel Sanchez

Griffon vultures are gregarious birds, with both breeding and non-breeding vultures usually congregating in large summering roosts after the nesting season. In the last few years, parallel to the increase of the Spanish and French Griffon populations, the number of summering individuals spending some time in the Alps has also been increasing. In the last few years, researchers and vulture enthusiasts across this mountain chain organize an evening count of traditional summering roosts on the same date, to try to quantify the total number of vultures summering in the Alps.

 

This year the count was done on the 17th August 2013, and the table below summarizes the final results

 

Summer home range

W-Alps

E-Alps

Total

    - of the breeding population

795

138

933

    - at distance from breeding colonies

827

56

883

Total

1,622

194

1,816

Observation posts

131

3

 134

Observers

235

5

240

 

Table 1 :Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus census in the Alps on the 17th August 2013 : minimal certain numbers.

 

This number compares with 1,479 griffons counted in 2012, and 1,162 in 2011 in the W-Alps.

 

W-Alps

 

Birds were counted mostly in the southern French Alps, northwards up to Savoie (≥ 182). There were almost none in the Pre-Alps. In Haute-Savoie 17 were counted (much less than in early summer), and in Italy 16.  Given the ≥ 279 breeding pairs and the usual breeding-non breeding rate, we estimate that approximately 35% of the birds counted are summer visitors.

 

E-Alps

 

Census only in National Parc Hohe Tauern (Austria) and in Lake of Cornino Nature Reserve (Italy), due to few observers being available. Therefore numbers are an underestimation. On the 12th September a minimum of 242 Griffons were on a Friulan feeding place, and this should be considered as the summering absolute minimum for 2013 for this region.

 

Switzerland

 

No counts. Some tens summering mostly in West, but almost totally absent after July

 

Germany

 

No counts. There were some groups of griffon in May and June (up to 26 in Mecklenburg).

 

This count was possible thanks to the efficient cooperation between a lot of volunteer observers and professional teams of Regional Nature Parks (Vercors, Chartreuse, Alpi Marittime, Val Troncea), National Parks (Ecrins, Mercantour and Vanoise), Associations (Vautours-en-Baronnies. LPO (Drôme, Isère, Savoie, -Haute-Savoie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), LIPU, CRAS Bernezzo, Cuneobirding), Nature Reserves (Hauts Plateaux du Vercors, Haute Chartreuse) and, in Savoie only, Offices Nationaux - des Forêt, -de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage.

 

Recommendations for future census

 

French Alps, Switzerland 

 

Census coverage has probably to be improved between Mercantour, Savoie and southern Prealps.

 

Austrian, Italian and Slovenian Alps

 

The effectiveness needs to be improved by:

 

  • Having more observers covering a larger area of the summer distribution;
  • Locating new roosting places before the census.

 

Massif-Central (F)

 

In the gorges des Causses a summer census should be organized, as efficient as the breeding monitoring of the local population (2013: 414 pairs). For a vulture, the Massif-Central is nothing but the most western part of the Alpine region sensu lato.

 

 

Jean-Pierre Choisy

 

Birdlife France

 

Vulture Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission

 

2013-10-08 - Zoo de Lille and Éspace Rambouillet organize fundraising events for the VCF

The Zoo de Lille and the Éspace Rambouillet have kindly organized fundraising events for the VCF in August-September. The Lille Zoo has run an awareness campaign about the birds in the Zoo, and sent the donations collected to two conservation organizations – one local rehabilitation centre and the VCF were the selected targets. The Éspace Rambouillet has organized some information panels about vultures, as part of their participation in the International Vulture Awareness Day (7th September),and also directed the collected donation to the VCF.

 

 

These donations will be used for the coordination of the bearded vulture EEP – a network involving more than 30 zoos and animal parks, aiming to breed in captivity this endangered species for reintroduction into the wild. The VCF coordinates this species EEP - most of the birds in this network are actually owned by the VCF. Currently all young bearded vultures resulting from this breeding network are being used in the reintroduction projects in Andalusia (Spain) and Alps – since 1986 more than 190 young bearded vultures, raised ex-situ, have been released in the this mountain chain. As a result, the species, which had gone extinct in the Alps in the beginning of the 20th century, has now recolonised, and is breeding well and increasing its population and range – this is indeed one of the best European conservation success stories of the last few decades!

 

We thank the Zoo de Lille and the Éspace Rambouillet for their generosity.

 

2013-09-30 - Longevity record for wild griffon vultures broken

On the 6th of May 1996 a griffon vulture chick was ringed in the nest on the island of Cres, Croatia. Last July (17th), after 6282 days, the same bird was caught – and subsequently released, in Forgaria, Italy. That is 17 years, 2 months and 12 days later – the oldest ever wild griffon recorded. Long live to him/her!

Photo by Angel Sanchez
Photo by Angel Sanchez

2013-09-21 - Tagged Ruppel´s vulture moves from Portugal to France

The Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture (Gyps ruppellii) that had been found starved in Portugal last June (see news below), and then subsequently released with wing marks, moved west and was spotted during the summer in several places in the Grands Causses and Westernmost Alps in France. Bruno Berthemy (LPO Grands Causses) took this photograph on the 10th September near Larzac, when the Rüppell’s was feeding together with 40 eurasian griffon and a black vulture.

 

 

The Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture is an endangered species than normally occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, but has been recorded with increasing frequency in the Iberian Peninsula, usually associated with the return of wintering Eurasian Griffons from Africa.

 

Photo by Bruno Berthemy
Photo by Bruno Berthemy

2013-09-20 - Eurasian Black Vulture chick raised successfully in Antwerp Zoo

This summer, Antwerp Zoo (Belgium) has enriched its exhibition with the addition of an Eurasian Black Vulture chick, that grew from a handful of fluffy down into a healthy and strong youngster in just a few months. The chick, a female, has finally left Antwerp Zoo at an age of 122 days to spend her next years among other young vultures in the giant aviary of Planckendael Animal Park (Mechelen/Belgium). In this aviary, young unattached vultures are allowed to socialize and eventually form pairs naturally.

 

Antwerp Zoo's chick is the first hatchling at this location since the early 1980s and is one of 7 to survive the breeding season in 2013, among the 54 institutions that are participating in the Eurasian black vulture Endangered species Programme (EEP), a coordinated network of zoos, animal parks and rehabilitation centers aiming to reproduce in captivity this endangered species and eventually release young into the wild, in which the VCF plays an important role. The black vulture EEP is run by Planckendael Zoo (Belgium) and coordinated by Marleen Huyghe (marleen.huyghe@kmda.org ).

 

Breeding Eurasian black vultures in captivity is particularly difficulty, as there are complex behavioral and genetic factors at play and the species is very sensitive to stress. The captive population of Eurasian black vultures registered in the EEP (200 birds) is demographically very old, and there is a significant sex bias (more females than males) for some ages. The ex-situ population of Eurasian black vulture needs to increase the number of successful breeding pairs, improve the percentage of fertilized eggs, and the survival rate of nestlings to be able to fulfil its role – only to keep the EEP population at equal level, on average 8 eggs should hatch per year, far above the current figures in the last ten years. However this year this goal has been achieved! 

 

 In the past zoos have already provided chicks to reintroduction projects (19 birds to Grands Causses reintroduction (France), 10 to the  reintroduction site at Verdon (France), 1 to the project in Catalunia (Spain), 8 to Baronnies (in France), and 9 to Mallorca (Spain). In 2012 the EEP has temporarily stopped providing chicks for reintroduction projects for the above mentioned reasons, so all chicks born in 2012 and 2013 will be kept in the EEP program to strengthen it – including the impressive young born this year at Antwerp.

 

2013-09-12 - Egyptian Vultures bred again in Malaga province (Spain)

After some year’s absence, the Egyptian Vulture bred again this Spring-Summer in Malaga Province – and this is a tribute to the hard work and investment of the Junta de Andalucia, who is tackling the poisoning threat in a decisive way.

 

For several years now the Junta de Andalucia deploys a comprehensive anti-poisoning plan. Since 2010 part of this focus on the Egyptian Vulture breeding territories and foraging areas, in a tailor-made operation that includes patrolling of critical sites by specialized units with poison-detecting dogs. These patrols have a dual enforcement-preventive scope, and they include a lot of engagement and contact with local farmers, landowners and game wardens, who become then involved in the effort.

 

As a direct result, the decline of the Egyptian Vulture has stopped in Andalucia – also a poignant reminder that poison is really a major threat to vultures in general and the Egyptian vulture in particular: when it is controlled, vulture species react well! Further good news came this year when one pair of Egyptian vultures established itself and bred successfully in Malaga province, after going locally extinct 3 years ago. The photos below show the happy moment when Junta staff, local farmers and hunters gathered to ring the chick (All photos by Estrategia Andaluza de Veneno).

 

The VCF would like to acknowledge the good work that Junta de Andalucía, and other partners, are doing to control poison in the region.

 

2013-09-09 - Massive poisoning of vultures reported from Africa

A poisoned griffon vulture in Spain. Poison is the biggest killer of vultures worldwide. Photo by Inigo Fajardo
A poisoned griffon vulture in Spain. Poison is the biggest killer of vultures worldwide. Photo by Inigo Fajardo

Poisoning is the major threat affecting vultures worldwide – and the main cause of past and present vulture extinctions, at local and regional level. Poisoning has many different forms and contexts, and also has a variable distribution – while endemic in some regions (e.g. parts of the Mediterranean), other areas had been relatively free from this human-induced threat, including some areas of Africa.

 

Recently, extremely worrying reports originating in that continent suggests the situation changed for the worse – with some of the worst poison-induced mass mortalities of vultures ever recorded. In one of the most recent events, at least 600 (six hundred) vultures are known to have died last July in Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park in the Caprivi Strip (now renamed the Zambezi region).

 

Apparently these mass poisoning incidents are often related to elephant poaching – which continues at record levels throughout Africa.  It seems that in some regions it has now become common practice for poachers lace the discarded elephant carcass (after extracting the ivory tusks) with cheap agricultural poisons to kill vultures in mass, because these birds circling in the sky soon after the poaching incident alert wildlife authorities to the location. By killing them, poachers aim to escape detection and continue to operate in the same area.

 

Africa is home to 11 species of vulture, and almost all are declining very fast, and some are threatened with extinction. Research in West Africa, for example, has sown that vulture numbers have declined by 40% over the past 30 years, with some species registering a decline of up to 85% (Rueppel’s vulture).

 

There has been at least 4 such mass killings only this year, each involving hundreds of vultures, and the practice seems to be spreading, with incidents reported from Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia. Most of the birds killed in the recent incident in Namibia are African White-backed Vultures, currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Also, these poisoning events have a wide geographic impact – in the incident in Bwabwata National Park, two of the dead birds had been tagged originally in the Kimberley area of South Africa – almost 1 000km away. The use of poison also negatively affects a number of other large raptors, as well as lions, hyenas, jackals and other carnivores.

 

Vultures are long-lived birds that reproduce very slowly, producing an average of one chick every other year.  These mortality rates are well above what is sustainable, and is worsening the vulture decline across Africa, with serious ecological and human health consequences in the longer term. The precipitous decline in three vulture species on the Indian sub-continent over the last 20 years has caused several problems, including a proliferation of feral dogs and a substantial increase in diseases such as rabies.

 

The VCF, together with some of our partners, has been working hard to eliminate poison in Europe. It is a long, hard, expensive task, but there is some good-practice and expertise available, that should be applied immediately in Africa.

 

The first step is to review legislation – and implement processes that enable wildlife authorities to identify and follow up such cases, including the identification of the poisons used. Penalties should also be increased to act as a deterrent– experience from Europe shows that only when custodial sentences were introduced did locals take the issue seriously.

 

Vultures are extremely useful in any ecosystem, as they are nature’s most efficient and effective clean-up crew.  Their place is in the African skies – help us keep them there.

 

Recently the VCF has been supporting colleagues in Kenya to develop a forensic monitoring system to counter poisoning of wildlife in the country. Click here for some details. If you feel strongly about the poisoning of African vultures, and want to to do somethign about it, please send us a donation, and we will send the money to Kenya to continue to support this work.

 

Please send your donations to the following bank account (marked Africa Vultures). Many thanks!

Name: Stichting VCF

Bank name: Triodos Bank nv

BIC: TRIONLU

IBAN: NL33 TRIO 0390 3553 80

2013-09-09 - Egyptian Vultures using tools – new photos

The use of tools by animals has always fascinated the human mind. One of the well-known examples relates to the Egyptian vulture, capable of using rocks to break into eggs. More than 30 years ago, the famous Spanish naturalist and film-maker Felıx Rodriguez de la Fuente filmed a well-known sequence showing just that. More recent pictures illustrating a similar scene (with a bird breaking an ostrich egg) appear now in the latest edition of Aves y Naturaleza, the magazine of SEO (Sociedad Espanola de Ornitologia). The photos were taken by Eduardo Vinales at the base of the Pyrenees, in the Aragon province. See here

2013-09-01 - Live the challenges that the Egyptian vulture has to face through a new computer game!

An original game, entitled Life of the Egyptian Vulture, has been released as part of the LIFE+ project “The return of the Neophron”. Through it, players face the threats which confront the Egyptian vultures throughout their lives. As the player progresses, the vulture’s age, appearance, size and power change too, and the ultimate aim is to survive until the end. The game contains information about the species biology, ecology and conservation. The creators of the game hope to provoke interest towards wildlife and to stimulate young players to find out more about the Egyptian vulture. In the near future, three more levels of the game will be released. Play the game at http://lifeneophron.eu/game/

2013-08-30 - Expedition to Albania finds only 8 pairs of Egyptian Vulture

A decade ago, it was estimated that up to 20 pairs of Egyptian Vultures were breeding in Albania. Now this number has dropped to 8, confirming the dramatic decline that this species is undergoing all across the Balkans.

Last year, and again this spring, a team of researchers from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS) and the Albanese NGO PPNEA searched the hills and mountains of southern Albania for this species – and found 8 only active nesting territories (6 pairs and 2 single birds). The research team found a large number of abandoned nests, some close to the border with Greece. This result is unexpected, because the food base in southern Albania seems to be rich, as many herds of sheep and goats were encountered. Further, the expeditions found that locals revere the Egyptian vulture, which they call "Cuckoo's Horse". The shepherds ın particular seemed to respect the species and related it with the welfare of their herds.

The expeditions served also to build capacity İn Albania to work with the species at local level, and for communication with local communities. This work has been done under the umbrella of the LIFE + project "The Return of the Neophron". For more information see http://www.lifeneophron.eu/en/news-view/162.html

2013-07-22 - More and more Black Vultures are appearing in the Italian Eastern Alps

Presence of Black and Egyptian Vulture in the Italian Eastern Alps

 

In the Italian Eastern Alps a project for the reintroduction of Griffon Vulture was started in the late 80s. The resulting griffon colony grew over time, partially helped by regular feeding at a feeding station and immigration. This colony is highly connected with the Croatian population, which is about 160 km away (as the crow flies).

 

Griffon vultures are now present all year round in northeast Italy - about 120 Griffons throughout the winter and at least 200 in summer. These high numbers of Griffons and the feeding point attract also other rare species. The Black Vulture was observed for the first time in 2005 (an individual named “Ophris”, born in 2002 in Spain and released in the Baronnies (France) in 2005 as part of the Black Vulture there). The bird remained in the area from 18th July to 24th August. In 2011 another Black Vulture named “Oviedo” (born in the wild in the Cevennes (France) in 2010, following the reintroduction project there) was regularly observed from 22nd May to 8th October. In 2012 Oviedo came back to the area from 19th July to 21st October. Another Black Vulture, not marked, was also present from 5th May to 18th September 2012.

 

This year Oviedo appeared for the third time on the first July (he had lost its plastic ring), this time accompanied by two other, unmarked Black Vultures.

 

The Egyptian Vulture is also observed regularly in the area, with 1-2 individuals most years. From 1993 to 2013 at least 17 individuals were recorded. Birds appear between April and July, both immature and adults. The only bird with marks was observed in July 2013: an adult born in 2009 in Gorges du Gardon (Département du Gard, France).

 

Fulvio Genero

Member of the VCF Advisory board

2013-07-12 - Importance of Protected Areas for the reintroduction of bearded vultures in the Alps - poster

Bearded vultures went extinct in the Alpine chain in the beginning of the 20th century. Towards the end of the same century, it was deemed that the threats that had driven it to extinction (direct persecution, poison and lack of food) had been minimized, so an ambitious reintroduction project started in 1986, using birds from the more than 30 Zoos and captive breeding centers coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation under the
Bearded Vulture endangered species programme (EEP).


Since then, the VCF and all its partners in 4 countries (Austria, Switzerland,
Italy and France) have released more than 185 birds across the Alps – and as a consequence, there are now more than 20 breeding pairs, and 30 territories, dispersed across the chain.


Now a new study - co-authored by a VCF advisory board member - shows the importance of protected areas for this species. Overall, about half of all reported observations of bearded vultures in the Alps, and about 65% of all reproduction events, occur in protected areas, which only cover 22% of the mountain chain. You can download the poster here

Bearded Vultures and Protected Areas in the Alps
Mittersill_20130605_final protected area
Adobe Acrobat Document 2.9 MB

2013-07-07 Two new residents in the Vercors

Two young bearded vultures, one born in the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna, the other in Helsinki, were last month released into the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors, as part of the international alpine bearded vulture reintroduction project, in which the Vulture Conservation Foundation plays an important part.


Bearded vultures went extinct in the Alpine chain in the beginning of the 20th century. Towards the end of the same century, it was deemed that the threats that had driven it to extinction (direct persecution, poison and lack of food) had been minimized, so an ambitious reintroduction project started in 1986, using birds from the more than 30 Zoos and captive breeding centers coordinated by the VCF under the Bearded Vulture endangered species programme (EEP).


Since then, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and all its partners in 4 countries (Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France) have released more than 185 birds across the Alps – and as a consequence, there are now more than 20 breeding pairs, and 30 territories, dispersed across the chain.


You can see a film about the release of these two young bearded vultures here

The VCF would like to thank PNR du Vercors for all their work and contribution to this project.

2013-06-26 Rüppel's Griffon Vulture wing tagged in Portugal

By Alfonso Godino & Catarina Machado

 

The Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture (Gyps ruppellii) is an endangered species with a decreasing population trend, and included in the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened (IUCN, 2012). It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west to Sudan, Ethiopia and some regions in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

 

Since the 90s, the rüppell’s griffon vulture has been recorded a few times in the Iberian Peninsula,usually associated with the return of wintering Eurasian Griffon Vultures’ (Gyps fulvus) population from Africa (Ramírez et al., 2011). Recently there has been an increasing number of sightings, also including breeding behaviour (Costa et al., 2003).

 

There is no accurate information about the population size of this species in the Iberian Peninsula, and movement patterns, or if they ever return to Africa.

 

On June 7th 2013, a starved rüppell’s griffon vulture was captured in Moura, southern Portugal. After being fed, the vulture was tagged with green wing tags and white KH code and released in the protected area of Moura-Mourão-Barrancos.

 

This is the first rüppell’s griffon vulture tagged in Portugal with wing tags (in 1998 another one was ringed and release from a rescue centre in north Portugal, N. Santos com. pes.) and only the third in Europe (two other birds were wing-tagged in south and eastern Spain, A. Onrubia and A. Seguí, com. pes).

 

The action is a part of the LIFE+ project “ Innovation Against Poison”, carried out in 8 pilot areas of Portugal, Spain and Greece. In the Portuguese pilot area of Moura-Mourão-Barrancos, we expect to tag 100 scavengers birds, considered as bioindicators of poison use. 

 

We acknowledge the following Portuguese authorities that aided in this tagging: SEPNA patrol in Moura (Wildlife Protection Patrol from the National Republican Guard), ICNF (Institute for Nature and Forest Conservation) and CEMPA (Centre for Migration Study and bird Protection).

 

Bibliography

 

Costa H, Bolton M, Matias R, Moore CC, Tomé R. 2003. Aves de ocorrência rara ou accidental em Portugal. Relatório do Comité Portugués de Raridades referente aos anos de 1999, 2000 e 2001. Anuário Ornitológico 1: 3–35.

 

Ramírez, J., Muñoz, A.R., Onrubia, A., de la Cruz, A., Cuenca, D., González, J.M. and Arroyo, G.M. 2011. Spring movements of Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture Gyps ruppellii across the Strait of Gibraltar. Ostrich, 82 (1):71-73.

 

For more info please contact Alfonso Godino: alfonsogodino@gmail.com

2013-06-17 - After an incredible voyage through middle Europe, Bernd the bearded vulture decides to go alone…

In the last few weeks bearded vulture researchers and enthusiasts have followed with lots of interest the incredible trip done by Bernd, a female bearded vulture reintroduced into the nature one year ago in the Calfeisental valley in the Swiss Alps (St. Gallen) with a satellite tag.

 

After a 3,000 km tour around Europe, taking in the Czech Republic, all the way up to the Baltic Sea, and then half-way across Germany, Bernd decided to go alone, and managed to get rid of the transmitter in central Germany. Here is her story…

 

Bernd was born in February 2012 in Vallcallent, the breeding station run by the Generalitat de Catalunya, and part of the bearded vulture captive breeding network managed by the VCF. It was raised by adoptive parents, and when it was three months old, it was sent to Switzerland, to be released there as part of the Alpine reintroduction project. In St. Gallen the bird was named after Bernd Strasser, a local WWF activist, but it turned out later than Bernd was a female.

 

Bernd´s first flight in June 2012 saw her lounge deep into the pristine alpine valleys, now again alive with the return of the species. Last summer Bernd explored the Swiss Alps, and in autumn she went on to neighboring Italy.

 

Then this Spring, on the 18th May, Bernd turned north, and started an epic 3,000 km journey. First Stuttgart, then Nuremberg, Prague and Rostock, all the way up to the Baltic Sea (Lübeck). Bernd then turned west, towards Bremen, Osnabrück and Fulda, back south, and then spent a week in the region around Nuremberg. Throughout the route, Bernd was seen several times by local birdwatchers who were alerted to the presence of the bird.

 

In the past other young alpine bearded vultures also went north - but then return at some point to the Alpine chain. Unfortunately we will never know if this happens, because a couple of weeks ago, when Bernd was near Bayreuth, managed to cut the harness and get rid of the satellite tag. After a few days of a stationary signal coming from a dense young forest with some rock walls north of Bayreuth, teams were dispatched, and they found the transmitter – but not Bernd.

 

The Alps are not very far away, so probably Bernd made it into his ancestral habitat. Let´s hope so!

 

 

 

Together for Vultures!

Visit us on facebook! 

follow us on twitter!