The LIFE GypConnect aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central, as well as in the Pre-Alps, through reintroduction and promoting dispersal movements between the Alps and the Pyrenean population.
To help achieve this goal, the project also tackles the many threat the species face in the Massif Central and Prealps. The project partners work together to identify and monitor threats, prevent them and minimise them to provide a safe habitat for Bearded Vulture to develop colonies and connect their populations between massifs.
The project has now released its seventh newsletter, discussing captive breeding, releasing birds in the wild, bird observations and threats. You can access the newsletter on the LIFE GypConnect Website in French or read the highlights summarised in this blog post.
2019 was a successful breeding season
After a fourth consecutive year of stable production of chicks within the VCF's Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network (EEP), 2019 saw a substantial increase in the number of chicks produced, thus making it possible to set a new record, resulting in 30 chicks. A total of 42 pairs of breeding Bearded Vultures produced 67 eggs, of which 36 hatched and 30 survived - except for one that died after a collision with the aviary.
Of these 29 surviving chicks, 22 were released - a new record for the VCF: nine in Andalusia, nine in the framework of the LIFE project GypConnect (five in the Grands Causses, two in the Vercors and two in the Baronnies), two in Corsica and two in Maestrazgo. Seven have been maintained in the breeding network. Of these 29 vultures, 18 came from captive breeding centres (18 breeding pairs), and 11 from zoos and private collections (22 breeding pairs). This new record is due to the investment that the VCF made over the past decade by visiting most of the partners of the EEP to improve accommodation conditions and reduce the loss of birds in zoos. In addition, all new partners of the EEP are visited by an expert before receiving the birds to ensure that their conditions are adequate and appropriate for the species. The VCF is aware that for someone to become an expert in the captive breeding of Bearded Vultures, it takes decades of experience, so it is a difficult situation, and so we support partners throughout.
Preparations for 2020 releases
This will be the 8th year of Bearded Vulture reintroduction in the Grands Causses! The preparations for this new year for the reintroduction of Bearded Vultures are again mobilising local partners - PNR des Grands Causses, Conseil départemental de l’Aveyron, Parc national des Cévennes and LPO Grands Causses.
For 2020 the LPO Grands Causses, in partnership with the regional nature park, is preparing the Trévezel site to welcome the young vultures again with a possible reintroduction of more than four birds.
Like every even year, Vautours en Baronnies is expected
to get two individuals to be released in the spring and are also preparing the sites.
Many Bearded Vulture observations this winter
This winter 2019-2020 is filled in Bearded Vultures observations between
Vercors, Diois and Baronnies. No less than eight different individuals
are observed almost daily in these massifs. In the Vercors, several adult individuals are seen in one area, one of which is identified with certainty; it's Kirsi, a male released in 2013. Two other adults are also observed, but their identification is unknown at this time. Three immature younglings regularly accompany them: Clapas, released in the Baronnies in 2018, and Mistral and Pamela, released in the Vercors and Baronnies in 2019 respectively.
In the Baronnies, an adult (perhaps different from those observed in the Vercors) is observed from time to time, as well as a subadult (possibly Volcary, released there in 2016) and Carmen, a female released in spring 2019.
Deaths in 2019 in the Grands Causses
Unfortunately, in 2019, three of the five birds released in the Grands Causses that year died. On the 6 May, the team released Europe (male), Lausa (female) and Monna (female) at Lozérien and were joined one month later by Cévennes (male) and Buisson (male).
Buisson arrived in early June and on 2 July successfully fledged. On 4 July, just two days after his first flight, the project team found Buisson electrocuted under a power line. This power line was even equipped with visual systems designed to allow birds to identify and avoid it, but Buisson still collided with it. His body was quickly recovered to be analysed. The necropsy performed did not reveal any other symptoms that could have caused the death of the bird.
After fledgling, Monna seemed fine until her first fall. Each time she fell, the team at the field tried to intervene, but Monna was always taking off before they managed to capture her. Unfortunately, her third fall on 20 July was fatal. The cause of these repeated falls remains unknown even after analysis.
Then, against all odds, Europe died who was a very strong bird and whose progress was very promising. The young male was found dead in the autumn in the Mounts of Cantal, which he had been crisscrossing for several weeks. The OFB, contacted the relevant stakeholders as soon as the body was discovered and opened a judicial inquiry, which is currently underway. The causes of the bird's death are still not known.
In the face of these heavy losses, the project team is focusing on the progress of Cévennes and Lausa who are slowly discovering their territory.
A sad case of lead poisoning in 2019
It is very important to monitor the causes of vulture deaths to determine their threats and address them. So a necropsy is always performed on dead birds if the state of the body allows for it, and toxicological analyses are made. Whenever possible, a lead test is carried out on the liver, as lead poisoning is a silent and underestimated threat. In 2019, a Griffon Vulture broke all records with 469.65 mg lead/kg found in its liver, which is the highest value obtained as part of the LIFE GypConnect project.
The X-ray did not reveal any fracture or shotgun pellet. The dosage of lead suggests that the vulture suffered from lead poisoning. The origin of lead that caused the intoxication is unknown, but the most common cause is the ingestion of whole pellets. This is because small pieces of lead ammunition are often present in the carcass of game species where scavengers feed on. This occurs relatively often when game hunting takes place, as animal remains are left behind. One of the ways the project tackles this issue is by raising awareness among hunters about the use of lead-free ammunition.
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Led by the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), the LIFE GYPCONNECT project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and Department of the Drôme. Releasing captive-bred Bearded Vultures into the wild at sites such as the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses, Parc Naturel Régional des Baronnies Provençales and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors will create a core population that will connect the two populations of the species in the Alps and Pyrenees. To facilitate movements between the new population and the Alpine and Pyrenean populations the LIFE GYPCONNECT team is creating a network of supplementary feeding stations, and tackling threats such as poisoning, and collision and electrocution with the electricity infrastructure.