2014-03-22 - New paper - Egyptian vultures & human disturbance

Photo: Bruno Barthemy
Photo: Bruno Barthemy
Human disturbance has been identified as one of the main causes of Egyptian vultures breeding productivity. This important new paper demonstrates that concrete management practices to preve...nt human disturbance are critical to improve breeding productivity, and therefore improve the long term conservation prospects for this globally Endangered species. You can download the paper below.
Effective conservation matters to mitigate disturbance to breeding Egyptian vultures
Effective conservation matters to mitiga
Adobe Acrobat Document 361.3 KB

2014-03-19 - Diclofenac in Europe - update. Where are we?

 

Latest News

(for background information on Diclofenac in Europe: see news from the 3th March 2014 >>)

 

10 EU governments and the EU Commission have already received from national organisational a formal request to start a referral procedure to ban the drug in Europe

Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux has released the news in France – see here

 

14,000 people have signed the English petition  - see here


The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, also known as the Bonn Convention) has written to the Spanish and Italian governments asking them to take some action

 

The Italian company marketing the drug in Europe (FATRO) has been contacted and informed about the issue by the VCF. First reaction suggested some overture to discuss possible solutions, and VCF-BirdLife International are now preparing a document to submit to FATRO

 

Update on the campaign

 

The Vulture Conservation Foundation has been at the forefront of the campaign to ban diclofenac in Europe. Ever since we were alerted for the legal marketing of this drug in Italy and Spain in late 2013, the VCF has researched the situation, established the current state of play, and promoted the building of a coalition of like-minded organisations to fight together this threat (Birdlife International, SEO/BirdLife, RSPB and the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group).

 

Diclofenac is extremely lethal to vultures, and has caused a 99% decline in several vulture species in the Indian subcontinent. This veterinary drug has been now banned from 4 countries in South Asia, only to reappear legally in Europe. This is probably the most significant threat to Europe’s vultures – whose populations have been steadily recovering following considerable investment by the EU, national governments and organisations like the VCF.

 

There are alternatives readily available to vet diclofenac, so we must learn from the Indian example, and STOP this drug before it is too late for Europe’s vultures. The VCF wants to see a total ban on diclofenacin the EU.

 

Here is an update on the situation

 

-The VCF has submitted to the European Union, together with other organisations, a formal request for the EU to start areferral procedure for a withdrawal of the marketing authorization of diclofenac, under Article 35 of Directive 2001/82/EC, based on the risks for vulture populations in Europe. The VCF has led on the production of a series of technical documents detailing the risks and potential exposure to vultures, and informing on the known-science on diclofenac (see VCF´s website below for more details). If the referral procedure is started, the Commission will ask for a scientific opinion from the European Medicine Agency, before taking a final decision. Usually the Commission upholds the opinion of the EMA.

 

-This referral procedure can also be initiated by EU member states, and the VCF and BirdLife International have been working with national organisations in a number of countries so that they also formally ask their respective governments to push for this referral procedure – so far this request has been sent to 10 EU members governments:  Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain.

 

-A number of national and international conservation organisations have issued their own press releases on diclofenac, following the public launch of the campaign by the VCF and Birdlife International on the 3rd of March. You can see several examples here

 

Hawk Conservancy Trust (here)

 

NABU (here)  

 

Liga Para a Proteção da Natureza (here)

 

Rewilding Europe (here)   

 

Ligue Pour la Protection des Oiseaux (here)

 

- The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS, also known as the Bonn Convention) has written to the Spanish and Italian governments asking them to take some action

 

-The issue has received some attention in the European and world press. Here are some examples of newspaper articles published in mainstream or the specialist national and international media

 

The Guardian (UK)  here

 

El País (Spain)  here

 

ABC (Spain) here

 

Publico (Portugal) here

 

Vet Magazine (Germany)  here

 

Dnevnik (Bulgaria) here

 

Farmer (Bulgaria) here

La Buvette des Alpages (France) here

 

 

WildLife Extra  here

 

-In the meantime, a couple of petitions have also been initiated, one  in English and one  in Spanish. The English petition is addressed to the two EU Commissioners, and has already 14,000 signatures!

 

-Two scientific letters have also been submitted by vulture researchers and scientists to  the prestigious journals Conservation Biology (by Spanish researchers) and Science (by a number of VCF-affiliated scientists and other researchers)

- Quite relevant, the company marketing the drug in Spain has put out – and then withdrew - an announcement with a recommendation that the vet diclofenac should not be administered to products that are susceptible to enter the vulture food chain. Considering the extensive character of many livestock explorations in Spain, and also the way that many vulture feeding stations work, this is impossible to control – but at least they recognise now the risk to vultures. This should have been adequately evaluated during the risk assessment!VCF and BirdLife International have in the meantime formally contacted the company marketing the drugs in Europe, informed them of the issue, and have been requested to present a proposal, which is now under preparation.

 

Stay tuned for further updates!

2014-03-18 - New film - bearded vulture chick from Ostrava Zoo is adopted by the pair at Schönbrunn (Vienna)

The bearded vulture breeding season in the captive breeding network is in full swing – one of the necessary tasks is to carry out adoptions. Bearded vultures lay two eggs, but as in this species there is obligatory caiinism  (the older chick kills the younger one), zoos and other partners in the captive breeding network often try to transfer the second egg or chick to be adopted by a foster pair.

 

This was the case with the second egg from the pair living in Ostrava Zoo (Czech Republic) – it was extracted just before hatching. The chick was then hand-raised for the first few days, but was then transported to Vienna to be adopted by the pair of bearded vultures there. Hand raising chicks for more than a week causes them to imprint on humans, and they are then not able to reproduce with their conspecifics later on, so this adoption is extremely important if one wants to raise chicks to be released in the reintroduction projects.

 

This process was beautifully captured on film by Enrico Gombala. See the film below.

 

2014-03-17 - Good news from Armenia – Bearded Vultures in Yerevan Zoo are breeding!

 

Yerevan Zoo in Armenia has always been known for its presentation of South-Caucasian wildlife, and this includes vultures species - Egyptian, Bearded, Cinereous and Griffon vultures. All these species still occur in Armenia’s mountainous wilderness but – due to habitat destruction and poaching - the numbers of wild vultures are generally decreasing.

 

 

Last November staff from the zoo prepared a natural cave for a pair of Bearded Vultures in the zoo´s collection. Later, in December, the birds started to prepare a nest with provided materials, such as sheep wool, branches etc. And on January 25th the zoo’s curator Manuk Manukyan discovered they had laid a clutch of two eggs. Currently the pair is breeding and the zoo staff is doing everything to keep disturbance to a minimum.

 

 

Yerevan Zoo has 3 Beaded Vultures, two males and one female. The origins of the birds are not clear most probably they were caught in the wild by local villagers and sold to the zoo. This has been a common practice in Armenia until 2011 when Ruben Khachatryan, the founder of the local environmental organization “Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets” (FPWC), started his assignment as Yerevan Zoo Director.

 

 

New guidelines, complying with international standards, were then introduced, and a master plan for the 75 years old zoo was developed. The on-going transformation process aims to create a zoo that can serve Armenia and the entire South-Caucasus region as a “Regional Centre for Environmental Education and Biodiversity Conservation”.

 

 

The new focus of the zoo is on breeding threatened species and – wherever possible – reintroduction of local species into the wild. The transformation process is strongly supported by the ARTIS Royal Zoo Amsterdam. In 2012 Yerevan Zoo became a candidate member of the European Association for Zoo and Aquaria (EAZA).

 

 

The VCF has also been supporting Yerevan Zoo with information and tecnichal expertise on bearded vultres, and we hope that this zoo becomes a member of EAZA, and jojns the Bearded Vulture EEP. Opportunities for collaboration are very promising, as the FPWC maintains a 2000 Ha protected area in the Caucasian mountains that offers a perfect habitat not only for Bearded but for Egyptian, Cinereous and Griffon vultures as well.  Linking FPWC’s “Caucasus Wildlife Refuge” directly with Yerevan Zoo programmes offers plenty of opportunities, but for now all of us are impatiently awaiting to welcome a young Bearded vulture chick!

 

2014-03-15 - Bearded vulture captive breeding: hatching time at Vallcalent

 

This chick hatched a few days ago in the Vallcalent specialized captive breeding center near Lleida (Catalonia, Spain). It is the third hatchling of a productive pair that laid three eggs this winter. In the last seven years this female has laid 14 eggs, from which 11 chicks hatched!

 

 

On hatching day, the female opened a 2€ size hole on the egg shell early in the morning, but the chick did not manage to get out. The process was regularly monitored throughout the day, and in the evening, noting that the egg membrane had dried and was stuck to the chick, we have decided to open the remains of the egg, and remove the chick. In the meantime the breeding pair was given a dummy egg so that they do not lose their breeding stimuli.

 

 

The chick was then cleaned, disinfected, and force-fed. This process will continue for one week (feeding the chick every four hours!), after which it will be returned to the parents. Its two siblings, hatched earlier, have already been adopted by foster parents and are doing well. Short nights and busy times for our staff at Vallcalent!

 

2014-03-10 - Bearded Vulture breeding season: life and death in the captive breeding network (on video)

 

Each breeding season in the Bearded Vulture captive breeding network – coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation and at the base of all the reintroduction projects we are involved with – is unique. And each year we have good and bad stories, lovely successes and some failures.

 

While some of us were very busy fighting the diclofenac threat (see news items below), the usual drama of new life and unexpected deaths was unfolding in the 30+ zoos and breeding centers in our network. While in the Liberec Zoo two birds hatched from the double clutch and are now growing strong, in the Guadalentin breeding centre a beech marten (Martes foina) killed a well-grown young, snatching it from under the brooding adult!

 

In Andalusia, a young Bearded Vulture dies!

 

On the 2nd March a beech marten (a common carnivore in the Iberian mountains) managed to enter one of the Bearded Vulture cages in the Guadalentin breeding center and “stole” a 14-days old chick from under the mothers chest  (see the incredible video below, shot through an infra-red video camera). Surprisingly, the adult bird didn’t react! It was a very dark, cloudy, winter night in Andalusia, so maybe the female could not see the approaching predator? This is the first time such an incident occurred in the breeding network – last year we had a genet wounding a young in the same center, so a special protective fence was installed until a certain height, but this marten has jumped from a nearby tree onto the roof and managed to get in through there. (Video courtesy of Junta de Andalucia)

 

In compensation, new life blossomed in Liberec Zoo

 

Two young Bearded Vultures hatched from the eggs laid by the successful Bearded Vulture breeding pair in Liberec zoo. The female had laid a double clutch last December, and in the end of January the eggs were removed for artificial hatching, and substituted by dummy eggs (so that the pair could keep their breeding stimulus). On the 4th of February the first chick hatched in the incubator and seven days later so did the second. Both were successful hand-reared during their first week, and while the older was later adopted by its own parents, the younger was transported to the Richard Faust Breeding Center in Austria to be  adopted by a foster pair.

 

This pair often manages to produce two chicks, and in these cases the younger chick needs to be adopted by a foster pair, as Bearded Vultures only raise one, with the older one killing the younger one (obligatory caiinism).

 

Hand raising chicks is often done in the Bearded Vulture EEP during the first few days, but if not given to the adult birds within the first week, young birds often imprint on humans, and are then not able to reproduce with their conspecifics later on.

 

The adult female arrived at Liberec Zoo in June 1993 from Russia, from the wild. Liberec Zoo joined the bearded vulture EEP in 1997, and in October the following year the VCF provided them with a male, born in 1985 in Moscow zoo. The pair bred for the first time in 2000/2001. The female has so fair laid 27 eggs, of which 16 hatched – 13 young bearded vultures have survived. Eight of these have been released in the different reintroduction projects, while 5 were kept in the EEP network.

2014-03-03 - European vultures severely threatened by legal approval of Diclofenac in Europe

 

We need action NOW to avoid a vulture crisis similar to the one in the Indian subcontinent

Veterinary diclofenac kills vultures and caused a dramatic (99%) and rapid decline in the vultures in the Indian subcontinent – significant effort has been spent to successfully ban the marketing of this drug in that region, as non-toxic alternatives exist. The appearance of this drug in Europe – it is now legally on sale in Spain and Italy – represents a new and significant threat to the European vulture populations, and creates a precedent that can have global impact on the world´s vultures. The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and BirdLife International are now asking the EU and members states to take decisive actions to ban this veterinary drug.

 

Vultures are scavenging birds that perform important ecosystem services: by fast recycling of corpses and carcasses in the countryside, vultures reduce the propagation of diseases, emissions of Greenhouse gases and prevent costs associated with the collection and processing of carcasses. Europe has four species of vultures - the globally Endangered Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the globally Near-Threatened Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), and the globally Least Concern Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) and Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus).

 

Veterinary diclofenac is a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug that could be used to treat cattle. However, diclofenac causes acute renal failure in vultures. In the last 3 decades, the appearance of veterinary diclofenac in the Indian subcontinent led to the massive decline of several species of vulture there – now only 1% of the tens of millions of vultures that occurred in South Asia remain. Population declines in India over the period 1992-2007 ranged between 97,5% and 99,9%, depending on the species.

 

Vultures die from kidney failure within two days of eating tissues of cattle treated with a veterinary dose of diclofenac. In India, less that 1% of cattle carcasses available to vultures would need to contain a lethal level of diclofenac to account for the observed rapid rates of decline.Cost for the Indian society of the vulture crisis there was estimated at 34 billion US$. A vulture-safe alternative anti-inflamatory drug exists, meloxicam.

 

The licensing of veterinary diclofenac drugs for livestock farming, in Italy and recently in Spain (since 2013), poses a significant new threat for these species in our continent. Unfortunately the necessary risk assessments done in the national approval process did not include the potential significant impact on vultures. The situation in Spain in particular is of high risk, as this country hosts the bulk of the European vulture populations - 90% of the European griffons, 97% of the black vultures, 85% of the Egyptian vultures and 67% of the bearded vultures in Europe. These, and in particular griffons and black vultures (the most common), feed often on carcasses of domestic animals left in the fields, or at dedicated vulture feeding points that offer them large amounts of cattle and swine from extensive and intensive unit.

 

Considering the proven impacts of diclofenac on vultures, the feeding habits of European vultures, and the distribution and the status of vultures in Europe, it is clear that we are facing a potential crisis. This also sets dangerous precedents for African and Asian countries, which could import diclofenac from Europe.

For the VCF and BirdLife International, the case is crystal-clear – it is really a question of learning from what happened in India! In case of risks to the environment or human health, Member States and/or the Commission can launch a Referral procedure to eventually ban a certain drug. The fact that a safe alternative exists, that the EU nature conservation legislation protects these birds, and the EU tax payer has already invested millions of Euros in the conservation of European vultures, should offer no doubt.

 

The VCF and BirdLife International ask environmental and veterinarian agencies to work together with national government and with the EU Commission to avoid another vulture crisis in Europe. Veterinary diclofenac must simply be banned from Europe!

We have now sent to the EU and EU member states a formal request for them to start a Referral procedure for a withdrawal of marketing authorization of diclofenac under Article 35 of Directive 2001/82/EC based on its risks for vulture populations in Europe.

You can find a full briefing about this matter and a press release below!

 

VCF Press release - diclofenac in Europe
Diclofenac ban final PR with BirdLife.pd
Adobe Acrobat Document 226.1 KB
Diclofenac in Europe - briefing. Current situation, legal aspects, potential impacts and required actions
Diclofenac in Europe - current situation
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Diclofenac kills vultures - we must act now to avoid a potential catastrohic crash (Photo Inigo Fajardo)
Diclofenac kills vultures - we must act now to avoid a potential catastrohic crash (Photo Inigo Fajardo)

2014-02-23 - First bearded vulture hatchling in Guadalentin

 

The first bearded vulture of the 13-14 breeding season hatched a few days ago in the Centro de Cría del Quebrantahuesos de Cazorla-Guadalentin, managed by the Junta de Andalucía and by the local Fundacion Gypaetus. Guadalentin is one of the three large specialized breeding centers in the bearded vulture captive breeding network, coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation, and that also includes more than 30 zoos. This network is at the base of the bearded vulture reintroduction projects now going on in the Alps (where the species has been successfully reintroduced), Grands Causses (France) and Cazorla (Andalucía, Spain).

Guadalentin has currently 5 breeding pairs, and these have laid a total of 9 eggs this breeding season. The young now hatched is the 51st born at Guadalentin since the first hatching in 1999. The bird was hand-reared for the first 5 days, but is now back to the natural parents, and is growing well. Most of the young born in this network will be released this summer in the three on-going reintroduction projects, thus helping to restore the populations of this magnificent species.

The VCF would like to thank the staff at Guadalentin for all their hard work. Well done!

 

Photo Fundacion Gypaetus
Photo Fundacion Gypaetus

2014-02-20 - Good news from northern Spain – bearded vulture pair showing signs of territoriality

Sixty years after the last bearded vulture pair disappeared from Picos de Europa, a pair of bearded vultures is suggesting they want to make the Picos their home.

 

The last known breeding of the species in the region dates from 1956, from the Asturias slopes - interestingly, the pair now roaming the northern parts of the Picos de Europa National Park has settled only 3 km away from the last known nest.

 

The two birds are a 4 year old female called Deva, that had been released in Picos in 2010 by the Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos (FCQ), and a wild adult male, probably from the Pyrenees, that dispersed to the west and arrived in 2013 in Picos. He has travelled far and wide through the Cantabrian Mountains, and finally settled near Deva.

 

Deva is still too young for breeding - this species usually only starts breeding at 7 to 9 years of age, but in the last few weeks staff from the Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa have observed the pair mating, defending their territory from other birds of prey, and also transporting wool to potential nest sites in three different cavities –the first signs of breeding behaviour. You can some images of the pair together, and listen to staff from FCQ  here. It is normal for young pairs of this species to start breeding rituals 1 to 3 years before they finally start laying eggs and raising chicks.

 

The pair settled in an area with favourable habitat, with plenty of wild and domestic ungulates that provide the food they need – adults feed mostly on bones, but young chicks require meat from fresh carcasses every day.

 

Bearded vultures are one of the rarest birds in Europe, occurring currently only in the Pyrenees (166 pairs, with roughly two-thirds on the Spanish side), Corsica (6 pairs), Crete (8 pairs) and the Alps (30 pairs), where the species has been successfully reintroduced by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and a number of alpine partners, following extinction in the beginning of the 20th century.

 

The Alpine reintroduction – one of the most remarkable wildlife comeback stories of the last few decades in Europe- has inspired other bearded vulture reintroduction projects elsewhere, and three other projects are currently ongoing: In Andalusia (Sierras de Cazorla, Segura, Castril & Las Villas), in a project led by the Junta de Andalucía and the VCF – birds have been released there since 1986 and the first matings have also been observed recently, see the VCF website for more details; in Grands Causses, in the French massif central, in a project led by LPO and the VCF, that aims to establish a connection between the Alpine and the Pyrenean population; and a new EU-funded project to reintroduce the species in Picos de Europa (2013-2018), with chicks from the Pyrenees, led by the FCQ, with support from the Governments of Aragón, Asturias, Castilla y León and Cantabria, and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.

 

Photo by Bruno Barthemy
Photo by Bruno Barthemy

2014-02-18 - VCF´s Jovan Andevski talks about Vultures to the Macedonian TV

 

The VCF coordinator for the Balkan Vulture Action Plan, Jovan Andevski, talks about vultures, and the challenges they face in the Balkans, to the Macedonian TV.  You can listen to his interview (in Macedonian) here

The Balkan Vulture Action Plan is a coordinated strategy and action plan for the protection and recovery of vulture populations in the Balkan Peninsula, led by the VCF. Over the last 10 years, the BVAP has funded projects, connected partners, collected data, developed regional projects, and promoted and disseminated vulture conservation across the region. Last year the VCF published a booklet summarising 10 years of research and conservation of vultures in the Balkans, which you can download below.

 

For this year, the VCF is fundraising for a new anti-poisoning regional project – poison is still the biggest threat to vultures in this part of the world.

Vulture Conservation in the Balkan Peninsula - 10 years of research and conservation
BVAP - 10 years of research and conserva
Adobe Acrobat Document 4.4 MB

2014-02-12 - Exciting news from the Andalusia bearded vulture reintroduction project – first mating in the wild observed recently

In the last few days of 2013, a 7 year old male called Tono was observed mating with a female deep inside the Sierra de Cazorla (see photo below)– this was the first ever such observation in the wild since the species went extinct there in the 80s. It is now hoped that the species may restart to breed in Andalucia soon.

 

The bearded vulture reintroduction project in Andalusia (Sierras de Cazorla, Segura, Castril and Las Villas), led by the Junta de Andalucia, in collaboration with the VCF, started in 1996, and but releases of birds have only been happening since 2006 -  so far a total of 28 birds have been released there, including 5 last summer.  The oldest individuals flying are thus now 7 years old, and starting to come into breeding age - normally this species starts to reproduce in the wild at 8 or 9 years old.

 

The bearded vulture was widespread in the mountains of southern Spain until the 40s, but intense human persecution and widespread poisoning cause it to disappear from southern Iberia. The last confirmed breeding took place in Cazorla in 1983, and in 1986 the last adult also disappeared.

 

The first movements for a reintroduction happened as far back as 1991, when the Junta de Andalusia led a feasibility study for a reintroduction project. In 1996 an agreement was then signed between the Junta and the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (the precursor of the VCF) to establish a specialized captive breeding centre in Guadalentin (Sierra de Cazorla), with birds provided by the FCBV (see photo below).

 

This center has been working ever since within the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), managed by the VCF, and currently houses 21 birds, and six breeding pairs.

 

Releases in Andalusia started in 2006, after the Junta, and Fundacion Gypaetus, established locally to manage the project, started an ambitious conservation programme, mainly focussed on minimizing the endemic tradition of poisoning the sierras to control predators. The number of poisoning incidents in Andalusia as a whole, and the Sierras de Cazorla/Segura/Castril in particular, decreased spectacularly, so releases could start. Unfortunately in 2011 two bearded vultures were found poisoned, so releases were temporarily halted that year to reinforce the antipoisoning work – there has been no mortality since 2012.

 

All released birds so far have been marked with GPS transmitters. Nine of the 28 have been found dead (poisoned, with lead intoxication or because of unknown cases), but 14 are known to be alive and well. Most have dispersed at some point, travelling far and wide across the peninsula,  visiting the far away Pyrenees, Picos de Europa and locally Sierra Nevada, but then flew back to the release area and are well established there.

 

Tono, the male, is a regular at Cazorla. He has done several trips to the Pyrenees, and once spent a whole summer there, but is now seen flying often above the captive breeding center in Guadalentin. The female observed mating with him is probably Malena, a 4 year old born in  Tierpark Berlin in 2009, and released the same year in Cazorla.

 

The project team is now anxiously waiting for first breeding – a milestone in such a reintroduction project. In the Alps, first breeding happened in 1997, 11 years after the first releases. The VCF would like to thank all the staff of Fundacion Gypaetus, and the Junta de Andalucia, for their unwavering commitment and effort to make this project successful. We are getting closer to another dream – restore the bearded vulture in southern Iberia!

 

2014-02-10 - The 2013 annual report for the bearded vulture EEP (Endangered Species Programme) is out!

100 years after going extinct in the Alps, the bearded vulture is now back to the alpine skies – 30 established territories and a record number (16!) of wild-born fledged young in 2013, in one of the most celebrated and spectacular wildlife comebacks in recent decades in Europe.

 

What many do not realise is that at the base of this spectacular result is a dedicated network of organisations, staff, bird curators and volunteers, working in 30+ Zoos, animal parks and specialized breeding canters, working incessantly with a captive stock of birds to maximize captive breeding.

This network, organised in a European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), is coordinated by the VCF. The latest annual report (2013) for all this work is now out – you can download it below.

 

In 201334 bearded vulture pairs in the EEP laid a total of 55 eggs, which resulted in 19 surviving juveniles. 13 of these were released in the 3 on-going reintroduction projects (Alps, Grands Causses & Andalucia), and 4 were added to the breeding network. Six new pairs were established in 2013, while 6 birds in the EEP died, mostly of old age.

 

All this is a result of total dedication of many hundreds of persons. Captive breeding is a full time job that requires attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. It is often an unsung, poorly understood component of the whole history – you can see some images of what it is all about in this short film here, shot by Enrico Gombala at the specialized bearded vulture captive breeding center in Haringsee (Austria). This story repeats itself, day in, day out, at all the 30+ EEP zoos and centers.

 

The VCF would like to thank all of these, and their staff and volunteers, for this great collaborative work. Without them, the bearded vulture would not be flying high above the alpine peaks, the gorges of the Grands Causses, and the craggy peaks of Cazorla. Thank you very much!

Annual report for 2013 - bearded vulture EEP
The Bearded Vulture EEP 2013 annual repo
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2014-02-08 - Egyptian vultures tagged in Turkey still sending valuable information – soon they will be starting their return journey

Photo Kuzey Doga
Photo Kuzey Doga

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the most endangered vulture species on earth – in fact it is considered globally Endangered by the IUCN because of a very fast decline in most part of its vast range. Turkey still has a significant breeding population, even though very little is known about the species in the country.

To find out more about its habits and conservation requirements, University of Utah biology professor Dr. Cagan Sekercioglu and his team at KuzeyDoğa (Northern Nature, a regional nature conservation organisation doing work in NE Turkey) have been studying Egyptian vultures since 2009 when they set up Turkey’s first vulture restaurant in Iğdır.

 

In August 2012, Dr. Șekercioğlu and colleagues managed to catch three Egyptian vultures in eastern Turkey, next to the border with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and tag them with satellite devices provided by the Ministry of Forestry and Water affairs in Turkey – this was the first time the species had been tagged in Turkey.  Dr. Șekercioğlu has been ever since following the movements of these birds – one of them turned out to be a great traveller, flying 20,000 km in 7.5 months and surviving the perilous round trip migration this species makes every year to their wintering grounds in Africa.

 

Iğdır, an adult male, arrived back to its breeding territory in Eastern Turkey in April 2013, after having wintered in Ethiopia – it was tracked through 13 countries. This bird covered the distance between eastern Turkey and the wintering grounds in only 10 days in late September 2012. Interestingly, he followed almost the same migration route on both migrations, often flying at very high altitudes (maximum 7970 m). Iğdır bred successfully in 2013, and returned to Africa, where it is now wintering in the same area of Ethiopia again.

 

The other two vultures tagged in 2012 were not so lucky - one of them died on its migration to Africa, 2000 km south of where it had been tagged, near Najaf, in Iraq, while the third did reach Yemen and then Ethiopia, where its signal was lost in March 2013.  You can see a video of the release of these three vultures in 2012 here.

 

Last summer Dr. Șekercioğlu´s team, led by his Ph.D. student Evan Buechley, tagged three more Egyptian vultures with satellite telemetry devices in Eastern Turkey. These three adult birds, named Agri, Tuzluca, and Ardahan, followed similar migration paths to those of the previous year, flying southward over the Arabian Peninsula and crossing into Africa via the Straight of Bab-el-Mandeb. It is becoming apparent that the Straight of Bab-el-Mandeb is a considerable bottleneck for Egyptian vulture migration, while the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia) are important wintering grounds for Egyptian vultures breeding in Eastern Turkey.

 

These birds continue to transmit fascinating information about their movements and habitat use in their wintering territories. If all goes well they will begin return migrations soon- in mid-March, according to last years timeline- and will again be spotted soaring over Turkey after completing their amazing intercontinental journeys.

 

In parallel to studying Egyptian Vultures, KuzeyDoğa is also maintaining a vulture feeding area in Eastern Turkey to try to provide safe, poison-free food for this and other vulture species, and are currently fighting a dam proposal that would flood some important Egyptian vulture habitat. You can see more about their work here.

Photo by Bruno Barthemy
Photo by Bruno Barthemy

2014-02-06 - Important publication on vultures and their food now available for free download

In 2007 an important seminar was organised to discuss the conflicts and the controversies related with vulture feeding and foraging behaviours, artificial feeding of vultures, and the impact of the new EU sanitary regulations on vultures. Those were times when the new EU laws imposed to deal with the mad cow and the foot and mouth diseases, requiring compulsory removal of all carcasses from the fields, and their incineration, were causing a dramatic change in age-old traditions in Iberia of leaving dead cattle in “muladares”. Things have improved since, with new regulations allowing for carcasses to be left on the ground in some areas and/or in some special conditions, but the papers gathered in this seminar still constitute some of the best science ever on this important topic. The publication – a 500 page volume both in Spanish and English - can now be freely downloaded from here

 

 

 

 

2014-02-05 - Award-winning film about bearded vultures will be screened this Saturday in Geneva

Des Gypaètes et des Hommes, a film by Mathieu Le Lay about the bearded vultures in the Alps, and the people that brought it back there, will be screened this Saturday (8th February) at 10.30 am at the Geneva museum, included in a month-long festival of films and documentaries about birds - Le rêve d'Icare - mois du film documentaire, http://www.ville-ge.ch/mhng/anima_2014_02_mois_film.php 

 

This film, done in close collaboration with the VCF and other partners in the reintroduction project, was first released in 2011, and has already won 5 awards (see at http://www.mathieulelay.com/des-gypaetes-et-des-hommes/).  Des Gypaètes et des Hommes has also been broadcast in many countries worldwide, taking the beauty of the alpine mountains and the remarkable story of one of the greatest wildlife comebacks to many audiences. You can see a trailer of the movie here.

 

Bearded vultures went extinct in the Alps in 1913, and in 1986, the VCF and a dozen other partners started an ambitious project to reintroduce the species. Today, there are close to 200 bearded vultures flying again in the Alps, including 30 established territories.

 

 

Photo by Alain Ghignone
Photo by Alain Ghignone

2014-02-03 - VCF plans the future releases of bearded vulture young in the Alpine-Grands Causses-Andalusia reintroduction projects for the period 2014-2016

 

The reintroduction of the bearded vulture to the Alps is one of the greatest conservation stories of the last decades in Europe – extinct 100 years ago, there are now 30 established territories, and the number of wild born young will soon surpass the number of young released in the mountains. In the Grands Causses and Andalusia, where releases have started much more recently, the news are also very encouraging- in Andalusia we see the first signs of breeding behavior by the first released birds (in 2006), while in the Grands Causses birds are moving to and from the Alps and the Pyrenees, suggesting the genetic connection between these two metapopulations may be within reach.

 

These three ongoing reintroduction projects are all based on the young birds from the captive breeding network managed by the VCF, and very well coordinated within an EEP. Numbers of birds available for introduction vary from year to year, so the VCF has usually to juggle various requests and contexts, to finally decide where birds are released. The final decision-making has always been and will continue to be a VCF decision.

 

However, we all recognize that it is important that project partners, particularly the ones associated with the release sites (6 sites in the Alps, 1-2 in the Grands Causses and 1 in Andalusia) discuss and contribute to the plan for future releases (when, where, how many birds, in different scenarios) , to try to organize themselves and plan work ahead, including the necessary task to plan budgets and projects to support releases and monitoring.

 

It also needs to be said that any such plan is only an estimate and approximate, as it is affected by uncertainties always inherent to the captive network breeding season - more or less young available depending on many external factors that the VCF cannot fully control. Recognizing that uncertainty, the VCF would like to improve the decision making criteria we use when allocating birds for release, and also to make the whole process more transparent and objective, and has thus produced, together with its many partners, this document, which you can download below.

 

 

Plan Future Release Bearded Vultures Reintroduction Projects Alps-Grands Causses-Andalusia 2014-2016
Plan Future Release Bearded Vultures Rei
Adobe Acrobat Document 343.3 KB
Photo by Bruno Barthemy
Photo by Bruno Barthemy

2014-02-01 - Film: Vultures from Ostrava Zoo help griffon vulture restocking project in Bulgaria and the bearded vulture alpine reintroduction project

 

Ostrava Zoo is one of the 30+ zoos and animal parks that are collaborating in the bearded vulture captive breeding network, managed by the VCF for the reintroduction of this species to the Alps and to Andalucia. Ostrava has two pairs of bearded vultures, which have produced a total of 8 chicks in the last few years. These have all been released across the Alps (Calfeisental-Switzerland, Vercors-France, Mercantour-France, Argentera-France), and the French Massif Central (Cevennes). These eight birds are part of the 192 released so far, since 1986, in this project – as a result, a wild bearded vulture population has established itself in the Alps, 100 years after it went extinct, and now totals 30 established pairs. The population is increasing, has excellent productivity, and soon the number of wild born birds will surpass the released captive bred ones – this is one of the most spectacular wildlife comebacks in Europe, and we thank Ostrava Zoo – and all the other participating institutions – for this great success.

More recently, the zoo has also sent - for the first time – its first griffon vulture to be released in Bulgaria, in a restocking project led by Green Balkans, which the VCF is also supporting. The aim of this project is to bring back the griffon vulture to the central Balkan Mountains. You can see a nice movie about this here.

 

 

2014-02-01 - Good news from the New World: Key property and habitat for the Andean condor purchased in Ecuador

 

A coalition of conservation organisations has pooled efforts to buy a 2,800-ha property that ıncludes key Andean Condor habitat in Ecuador. The area now purchased is near the Antisana Ecological Reserve, and includes high-altitude forests, canyons, and páramo grasslands around the 5,758 m  Antisana Volcano. Most significant, up to 30 condors, around 50% of the total population in all of Ecuador, nest and roost on the cliffs of the estate now acquired for nature conservation. The land will be managed by Fundación Jocotoco, which will now expand its eco-tourism programme to include the new reserve, which is quite close to Quito. The area is also home to other charismatic species, puma, Andean wolf, the woolly tapir, and spectacled bear, as well as endemic frogs.

You can read more details here.

 

Condor with Antisana Volcano. Photo courtesy of Fundación Jocotoco
Condor with Antisana Volcano. Photo courtesy of Fundación Jocotoco

2014-01-30 - Bearded vulture breeding season: First chick! See the video

 

The first chick of the 2013-2014 bearded vulture breeding season was born last Monday at the captive breeding center run by ASTERS – Conservatoire d´Espaces Naturels Haute Savoie. You can see a video of the young here.

 

 

The pair - Marie Antoinette and Josef – had also laid the first egg this season, on the 4th December. Marie Antoinette and Josef ate early breeders - last breeding season they also laid very early on the 8th December 2012, and successfully raised a chick, that was released in the reintroduction project in Cazorla (southern Spain) last June. 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.

 

 

Marie Antoinette has a curious story - Born in 1989 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 1989 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 run by 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 have already raised three chicks, released into the wild in Vercors (France, southwest Alps), Calfeisental (Central Switzerland) and Cazorla.

 

 

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.

 

 

The VCF would like to congratulate ASTERS, and its dedicated staff, for this birth! We hope this young bird grows strong!

2014-01-24 - Watch the bearded vultures in Vanoise National Park live

A webcam is again bringing us live the antics of a wild bearded vulture pair nesting in Vanoise (French Alps). This pair has laid an egg on the 6th January and is now incubating. The nest is near Termignon, and the webcamera, placed at approximately 1000 m from the nest to avoid any disturbance, has been set up with the permission of the Parc National de la Vanoise.

 

This pair established itself in the Gorges du Doron in 2001 and has been nesting there ever since. The female, named Gelas, was born in captivity and released at Mercantour (Alpes Maritimes) in 1997, only a few months old. Four years later the female had acquired an adult plumage, and started to breed when only 5 years old, which is quite early for the species. The male is named Stelvio, and was born in the wild in Italy in 1998.

Last year the pair bred successfully, and raised a young baptised Gygybarbe by the local schools – you can see its history here

Bearded vultures are staging a remarkable comeback in the Alps, where there are now 30 established territories, only 100 years after it went extinct there. Spearheaded by the VCF, the reintroduction of the species into the Alps, started in 1986, is a large multinational effort covering 4 countries, and with many partners. 192 birds, almost all young coming from the captive breeding network, have been so far released across the Alpine arc, and last year 16 fledglings came out of wild nests – a new record


When the weather is windy or bad, the image can often appear with bad quality - and obviously it is dark at night! Today the only thing you could see was a snowstorm, but yesterday you could have great views to an incubating bearded vulture.

The VCF would like to congratulate the Parc National de la Vanoise for this initiative

 

You can see the webcam here

2014-01-21 - Tamarán, the first ever Canarian Egyptian vulture bred in captivity, flies strong in Fuerteventura

Ten weeks after its release in Fuerteventura, Tamarán is seemingly well adapted to its wild home – he moves with other Egyptian vultures, in ever wider flights. Tamarán´s movements are being followed because he carries a GPS tag on its back, put by researchers from the Estacion Biologica de Donana-CSIC and from Cabildo de Fuerteventura. This tag gives them data on the bird´s whereabouts. We thus know he has slept on poles, and has been to some cattle grazing estates on the island (see photo, data from José Antonio Donázar, Estacion Biològica Donana-CSIC).

 

The canary island Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus majorensis), locally known as Guirre, is an endangered subspecies now confined to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Following some conservation effort, led by the Cabildo de Fuerteventura, Estacion Biologica de Donana-CSIC, and others, to insulate electricity pylons and eliminate some lines, the population is now slowly recovering – the 2013 census showed there are now around 230 individuals, and 47 pairs, almost all in Fuerteventura (4 in Lanzarote).

 

Last year saw also the first ever successful captive breeding of the endemic subspecies – after one decade of failed trials, one of the two pairs in captivity – birds that were recovered severely wounded and cannot be released – managed to lay a fertile egg, that was incubated artificially, and raised by a puppet in the first few weeks, before being reunited with its father. The VCF has given the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, who manages the wildlife rehabilitation center where all this happened, with technical advice – see the details and photos in a news posting below.

 

Now Tamarán – named after the aboriginal name for Gran Canaria, flies free, and is quickly becoming a celebrity in the archipelago, Last weekend the local authorities from Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria have opened an exhibition about him (see photo).

 

With a recovering population in Fuerteventura, and with the first success in captive breeding, local authorities and conservationists are also now considering the possibility of attempting the reintroduction of the species into Gran Canaria – from where it has disappeared in the 1980s.

2014-01-17 - Croatian griffon vultures fly far and wide

 

The picture emerging from the recently published Croatian Bird Migration Atlas is striking – griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) fly far and wide, showing up from France to Poland and from Israel to Chad.

 

It was well known that young Croatian griffons usually spend the winter in the Middle East, with some going all the way to subSaharan Africa through the eastern Mediterranean. Now that the French population is increasing significantly, and with the well documented summering movement of griffons from Spain and France towards the Alps, the contacts between the western European griffons and the Balkan ones are also increasing.

 

For the first time, a composite picture of all the griffon movements known from Croatia has been compiled by Dr. Goran Sušić, for the above mentioned atlas.

 

So far, a total of 882 griffon vultures have been ringed in Croatia, and these produced a staggering 1890 controls (as well as additional 3820 data points from GPS satelitte transmitters which have been put on a few Croatian griffons), from 486 individuals – mostly because they sport either wing tags, or colour rings, or both! 79% of these recoveries were abroad.

 

These figures are incredible - more than half (56%) of all Croatian ringed griffons have been seen at least once somewhere! The oldest was over 17 years old, while the one who has travelled further was recovered in Chad!

 

Some of the birds have been revered dead – with drowning, poisoning, starvation while on migration, electrocution, hunting, and collision of wind farms being the cause of death reported so far.

 

(Information extracted from

Sušić, G. 2013. Bjeloglavi sup, Gyps fulvus, Eurasian Griffon. Pp. 70-72. In: Kralj, J., Barišić, S., Tutiš, V., Čiković, D. (eds.): Croatian Bird Migration Atlas. HAZU, Institute of Ornithology, Zagreb). You can download the whole Atlas here

http://goo.gl/BaMBWK

  

 

Mao of all resightings of Croatian-ringed griffon vultures
Mao of all resightings of Croatian-ringed griffon vultures

2014-01-14 - Update on the Black vulture reintroduction project in Catalunya – 7 pairs, three fledglings, and 30 individuals in 2013

 

The black vulture reintroduction project in Catalunya – led by the Departament d’Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca, Alimentació i Medi Natural de la Generalitat de Catalunya and by the Fundació Catalunya – La Pedrera, with technical support from GREFA and Trenca NGOs, had another good year in 2013, with three young fledging from natural nests. The ultimate aim of this project is to restore this magnificent species in the pre-Pyrenees, from where it had disappeared 100 years ago.

 

In 2013 7 pairs were observed in the release sites - the Reserva Nacional de Caça de Boumort and the Espai Natural d’Alinyà, distant about 30k from each other. Five pairs started to breed, from which 3 young fledged. The first breeding occurred only in 2010, and since then a total of 6 black vultures fledged in the new colony.

 

So far almost 50 individuals were released in the area, almost all coming from rehabilitation centers in western and southern Spain. The Spanish population, the biggest in the world, has been slowly increasing, and every year several exhausted or weak individuals are found by members of the public and sent for rehabilitation.

 

During the last counts in Boumort and Alinyà (December 2013), a total of 30 black vultures were seen, 26 autochthonous (released in the area or already born there – this includes the first bird born in the wild, in 2010, that is still around), and 4 birds from elsewhere – two from the French reintroduction projects, and two from elsewhere in Spain.

 

The Catalunya project lies exactly in the middle between the stronghold of the species in western Iberia, and the French reintroduction projects, and many dozen individuals from both origins have been seen in the area – thus this project is also promoting the genetic flow and mixing of black vultures in Western Europe.

 

You can find more information about this project here

 

Photo by Bruno Barthemy
Photo by Bruno Barthemy

2014-01-11 - The end of an era – historical bearded vulture pair in Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol (Austria) died

One of the oldest, and most important, pairs of bearded vultures in the captive breeding network coordinated by the VCF has now sadly disappeared.

On the 18th of August last year, the 48+ years old male bearded vulture in the Alpenzoo Innsbruck - Tirol died of old age. Four months later, on the 27th of December, veterinarians from the Zoo euthanized the 50+ years old female, which was suffering. 

 

This male produced an incredible 71 eggs during its time at the Alpenzoo Innsbruck - Tirol. A total of 26 chicks fledged from these, and 13 of them have been released, mostly in the Alps, in the in-situ projects coordinated by the VCF. One of them, the male “Andreas Hofer”, released in 1996 in the Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, settled down at the release site and is now breeding in Kruml valley. He is the father of the first juvenile fledged in Austria since the extinction of the bearded vulture more than 100 years ago. 

 

The Alpenzoo Innsbruck pair is also at the heart of the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) that the VCF is coordinating, and which is at the base of the successful reintroduction projects now being implemented across the Alps, in the Cevennes-Massif Central (France) and in Cazorla (Spain). It was due to the constant breeding success achieved with the Alpenzoo breeding pair that the idea of an internationally coordinated Bearded Vulture reintroduction project in the Alps based on captive breeding was originated. The guidelines and working method of this long-term project were agreed at an international meeting celebrated in Morges (Switzerland) in 1978. One of their premises was to use only birds that were already in zoos or injured birds from the wild that could not be recovered – no wild bearded vulture was ever taken from the wild to the captive breeding programme since 1978!

  

This famous founder pair has an interesting story too: they were brought as adults from Kopetag (on the border between Turkmenistan & Iran) to the Dresden zoo in the early 70’s. On the 7th of February 1972 they laid their first egg there. Because they were kept together with other large birds of prey there they did not incubate this egg (too much disturbance). On the 22nd of October 1973 the pair was transferred to the Alpenzoo Innsbruck - Tirol. Two months later, on the 20th of December, the female laid an egg from which hatched their first descendant, and so began their successful reproduction carrier. In 1978 the original female died, and was replaced by another one from Artis zoo (Amsterdam).  After many successful breeding seasons, the pair started to show signs of old age – their last two chicks were blind, and the last egg was laid in 2010.

 

 The staff from Alpenzoo Innsbruck - Tirol has also spent countless hours studying and describing the behavior of these birds in captivity, and thus helping develop the husbandry guidelines that today are used by dozens of zoos. Dr. E. Thaler, Dr. H. Pechlaner and their staff have, for example, described for the first time the aggressive behavior of the chicks in nests with more than one hatching, which always causes the death of the younger sibling. This behavior -described as “obligatory” caiinism-, is independent of the satiation level, and is more pronounced 5-20 days after hatching. As a result, since then double clutches have always been removed for artificial hatching, and the second chick then given for adoption by a foster pair –it can return to their parents after this critical period.

  

The VCF would like to thank Alpenzoo Innsbruck - Tirol staff and management for this success story. In the VCF we are all working to try to replace this historical pair with another one sometime soon.

 

The bearded vulture cage at AlpenZoo Innsbruck-Tirol
The bearded vulture cage at AlpenZoo Innsbruck-Tirol

2014-01-09 - VCF adds its voice to conservationists in Southern Africa that ask for a serious evaluation of impacts of pre-approved wind farm in Lesotho

 

Development could further endanger the Southern Africa’s rare bearded vultures

 

 

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

 

In southern Africa bearded vultures have declined by 30-50% in the last few decades. Currently it is estimated that only 352-390 bearded vultures live in the region, and the species has therefore been classified as Critically Endangered in the red data list for the birds of southern Africa.

  

Now, some of these birds are further threatened by a new wind-farm in the Maloti Mountains, recently approved by the Lesotho government. The proposed development - 42 850KW turbines and associated infrastructure such as powerlines, substations and access roads, is within the breeding and foraging range of several bearded vultures and also some endemic Cape Vulture Coprotheres Gyps.

  

In general, conservation NGOs and the VCF favour renewable energy, as a way to minimise climate change, which also has severe consequences on biodiversity and vultures, but extra care should be exercised when planning the location of wind farms, as these developments are known to have severe impacts on bats, migrating birds, and soaring raptors, including vultures. Thus, a proper assessment should be made, including all the provisions included in national and international legislations.

  

In this case, evidence that the site selected for the development was not ideal is overwhelming - Ian Rushworth and Sonja Krüger, from Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, prepared a Population Viability Analysis modeling the potential impacts of this development on the Bearded Vulture population, and these were very serious.  These researchers used data from ten Bearded Vultures fitted with solar-powered satellite tags to determine the size and location of the core foraging range of the species as well as the speed of travel and height above ground at which they forage.

 

The modeling found out that Bearded Vultures actively select ridge tops and upper slopes like the one where the wind-farm will be built, and spend at least half their foraging time less than 100 m above ground level, within the blade swept height of the proposed development, and hence at risk of collision. This, coupled with a small, isolated and declining population, means that wind farm developments in the Lesotho highlands, even at a modest scale, may have a catastrophic impact on this species. Because of their low reproductive rate and long life span, this population will be unable to recover from an accumulative loss of individuals. 

 

However,preliminary clearance has now been given, subject to a one year study via a radar system, to assess bird mortality risks. The VCF adds its voice to colleagues in Southern Africa  asking the Department of Environment of the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture in Lesotho to take seriously the results of this radar study and revoke the permit if impacts on vultures that are beyond mitigation are clearly identified. 

Adult southern africa bearded vulture. Photo by Sonja Krueger
Adult southern africa bearded vulture. Photo by Sonja Krueger

2014 -01-07 - Great start of the year at La Garenne Zoo

 

The captive bearded vulture pair at Zoo La Garenne (Switzerland) – one of the 30+ zoos and animals parks in the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), gave us all a great New Year gift – an egg, laid on the first day of the year!

 

 

In the short film below you can see the happy pair tending their egg and nest. The pair is being watched around the clock by a hidden camera. The bearded vulture pair in La Garenne is one of the oldest in the EEP – the male is a respectable 45 years old! In 1995 the original female died, and was replaced by another one coming from Tierpark Friedrichsfelde (Germany). It started to lay in 1998, and produced 10 young, some of which have been reintroduced into the wild in our in-situ projects. The last successful breeding occurred in 2010 – let´s hope they can raise a young this year!

 

 

The bearded vulture breeding season in in full swing now, both in nature in in the zoos - 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.

 

 

In the EEP, we have 13 pairs incubating (18 eggs in total). The Vulture Conservation Foundation is the coordinator of the bearded vulture EEP. This collaborative network of over 30 zoos, wildlife parks, specialized breeding centers and private collections is at the base of the ongoing reintroduction projects in the Alps, Cazorla (Southern Spain) and Cevennes (Central France). In the Alps the species is staging a remarkable comeback, with 30 established territories 100 years after it went extinct there.

 

 

We congratulate and thank all the staff at La Garenne - Well done!

2014-01-06 - Lead still threatening the Californian condor... and the bearded vultures in the Alps!

The article below gives a poignant report on how lead from hunting cartridges and bullets is thwarting efforts to restore the might Californian condor back to the wild. In the Alps, lead is also one of the main causes of mortality of our own bearded vultures – 5 confirmed deaths in the last 8 years.

 

Since 2010 the Parco Natural Stelvio and Sondrio Province have been analyzing the carcasses of raptors and ravens to try to quantify the full extent of this problem, and have found out that lead is probably the main driver limiting golden eagle distribution in the Alps and is also killing bearded vultures. Lead poisoning can result from the ingestion of shot carrion, or from absorbing lead from embedded pellets after the birds survive a direct shooting episode (see photo).

 

The VCF and other partners are working on the matter, and in some regions and/or protected areas hunting with lead poisoning is now banned - Pyrenees, northern Italy (Sondrio and Bolzano provinces) and Austria.

 

You can read the article on the Californian condor here

2014-01-04 - Black vultures reach historical record in Extremadura

 

The breeding population of black vultures nesting in Extremadura (western Spain) has reached in 2013 a new historical record: 897 pairs. This species has been increasing steadily in the last 3 decades and has recovered from an imminent extinction – in 1974, there were only 86 pairs in the same province, the stronghold of the species in Spain and western Europe.

 

In 2013 the staff from Junta de Extremadura that have been monitoring this endangered species have counted 590 successful fledglings from 806 controlled pairs. There are 9 colonies of this species in Extremadura, the largest of which includes 316 pairs. The Sierra de San Pedro and Monfrague are the two best places for this species in the region.

 

This extraordinary success story has only been possible through an intensive conservation effort led by the Junta de Extremadura, but also with the collaboration of the landowners, conservation NGOs, and others.

 

Today, Extremadura has one of the most important nucleuses of this species in the world. This autumn, Junta gave three black vultures that had been found weak in the countryside, and rehabilitated, to the reintroduction project in France, where they will be released soon to boost the flourishing population there (30+ pairs). The VCF is supporting this reintroduction project.

 

Photo by Bruno Berthemy
Photo by Bruno Berthemy

2014-01-03 - International Bearded Vulture observation days – first results

Photo by Bruno Berthemy
Photo by Bruno Berthemy

The international bearded vulture observation days were a success, despite low visibility at some places. On one single day, the 12th of October 2013 it was possible to count around 120 different birds in the whole Alpine range. Many observations were made in the Western part of the Alps as the weather conditions were much better there than in the Central- and Eastern Alps. In these regions a lot of snow and fog hindered the birds to fly and the many volunteers to spot them. A detailed report on the observation days will be available in the next few weeks here >>

2014 -01-02 - VCF in the New Year – 3 great successes and 3 challenges for the future

Photo by Bruno Berthemy
Photo by Bruno Berthemy

 

Following a short break, the VCF is back to work for vultures in Europe. The New Year period is always one prone to retrospective analysis and to forward planning. Here at the VCF we also looked back at our past year, and are planning the exciting year ahead. Here´s our summary & plans:

 

 

 

2013 – Three great vulture successes

 

  1. Record year for the bearded vulture in the Alps. This project, led by the VCF, together with many partners in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, started in 1986, but is now crossing the final bend – exactly one hundred years after the last bearded vultures were shot from the alps, and 27 years after the first releases, a record 16 fledglings flew from wild nests, and there are 30 established breeding territories in the alpine chain. Birds are also now moving between the Alps and the Cevennes, and between these mountains in central France and the Pyrenees, thus suggesting that a genetic flow between the Pyrenees and the alpine population will soon get established. In a few years’ time we can stop the releases and say – we have succeeded – bearded vultures are back to the alps with a self-sustainable and healthy population

  2. Black vultures back in France. The VCF has facilitated the transportation of a further 6 black vultures from Spain to the two active reintroduction projects in France, that had another great year – they have started to breed now also in Alpes Maritimes (Gorges du Verdon), and their wild population in France totals now 30+ pairs. Looks like the species is now firmly reestablished in the country, and we are one step closer to expand its former distribution range towards the Balkans, where the species is almost extinct

  3. Griffon vultures galore -  the griffon population in Spain (approximately 80,000 individuals) is at its historic peak, but this year has been very good for griffons almost everywhere in Europe – maximum figures for France, and across several countries in the Balkans (Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria). This probably suggests that the battle against the evil poison is producing good results where projects and teams are championing the cause (e.g. in Spain, Serbia and Bulgaria). This also means that Europe is now becoming the vulture continent of the old world – with the catastrophic declines in Asia, and now in Africa, you are most likely to see a great vulture spectacle…in Spain or France!

 

2014 – Three big challenges to tackle

  1. Egyptian vulture. This species is still declining in most of its range, including its European range. In spite of valiant conservation efforts in Bulgaria-Greece-Macedonian-Albania, the situation there is deteriorating quickly, and the species is on the verge of extinction in southeastern Europe. Some positive signs in France (with a slight increase) or in Andalusia (where the species has stabilized following an excellent anti-poisoning programme run by the Junta) does not mas the overall trend, which is negative and very worrying. The VCF needs to do more on Egyptian vulture in 2014 to help this disappearing species!

  2. Poison. Great work in Spain (led by Junta de Andalucia and also SEO/BirdLife) and parts of the Balkans (e.g. Bulgaria) does not mask a continuing threat – poisoning is still here, killing vultures, eagles and carnivores across Europe, from Spain to Scotland, From Greece to Cyprus. If we relax, it will just destroy years of work – a recent spike in the use of poisoning in Greece has caused extensive damage, including on the endangered Egyptian vulture there. Further, poisoning of vultures in Africa is rampant, with several incidents recently killing many hundreds of vultures, which are fast declining in that continent. At the VCF we believe we can help our African colleagues deal with this situation, exchanging our decades old-experience and best practice, and will try to do just that in the next few months.

  3. Diclofenac may strike back – and this time not in Asia, where it led to a 99% decline of most vulture species, but in Europe, now the stronghold for old world vultures. In the last few weeks of 2013 the VCF has learned that this veterinary drug is being legally produced and sold in Europe, in several countries. VCF, together with a number of partners, including BirdLife International and SEO/BirdLife, are now working behind the scenes to identify, and fight this potential threat – watch this space for further news soon.

 

Happy New Year to everybody, and let´s start working, together for vultures!

 

 

 

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