Day 1 insights from the European Vulture Conference 2023

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The European Vulture Conference 2023 began on a promising note, with the opening session setting the stage for the upcoming days of this significant event: 200 presentations in various formats such as standard talks, speed talks, posters, and exciting side activities. The programme commenced with a start by Hans Pohlmann, the President of the Vulture Conservation Foundation, extending a warm welcome to the 400 participants who joined from over 45 countries. Esteemed guests at the opening session included Francisco Javier Díaz Cieza from Provincial Deputy of the Excma. Diputación de Cáceres, Borja Heredia Armada from MITECO, Deputy Mayor Pedro Juan Muriel Tato of the City Council of Cáceres and the General Director of Sustainability Germán Puebla Ovando of the Regional Government of Extremadura.

The scientific session of the conference began with a focus on vulture conservation in Spain and Extremadura, the host of the event, followed by an overview of the situation in Europe. The day unfolded with a series of scientific sessions featuring talks that delved into various species, regions, and topics. In this blog post, we will highlight the key insights and highlights from the first day of the conference.

Morning session

Auditorium

Vulture Conservation in Spain

MITECO

Griffon and Cinereous Vultures exhibit positive population trends in Spain, while Egyptian Vultures remain stable, but threat level varies with regions. Notably, the Bearded Vulture sees a slow increase in population. Threats persist, with 2,750 vultures falling victim to poisoning between 1990-2017. Addressing this, Spain emphasizes legal measures, regional plans, and achieving wildlife crime convictions. Collision with windfarms is likely Griffon Vultures’ biggest threat, with 1,000 annual estimated deaths. Tackling lead intoxication with strategies involving banning lead bullets in wetlands, researching lead-free alternatives, and promoting awareness. The change in legal framework to introduce feeding stations and primarily to leave carcasses in authorized extensive farms, estimated to be 20,000, has greatly benefited vultures, improving food availability and quality.  

Vulture Conservation in Extremadura

Junta de Extremadura

Over three decades of collaborative efforts involving authorities, conservationists, NGOs, farmers, and landowners have significantly elevated the conservation status of vulture species in Extremadura. Presently, the region boasts 1270 pairs of Cinereous Vultures, constituting 38% of Europe’s total, along with 141 pairs of Egyptian Vultures (143 wintering) and 2318 pairs of Griffon Vultures. Occupying 4 million hectares, with dehesas comprising 67%, the habitat’s significance is underscored. These expansive open landscapes, coupled with abundant livestock farming and facilitated sanitary regulations allowing carcass abandonment, not only benefit local populations but also attract vultures from surrounding areas. Effective management plans highlight the paramount importance of regulations.

Vulture Conservation in Europe

José Tavares, VCF’s director

Europe shines as a success story in vulture conservation, with positive examples and best practices. Starting with 25 captive Bearded Vultures in the 1970s, the VCF now manages 180 birds in captivity for conservation goals. Today, we continue to breeds and release them in the Alps but expanded to reintroducing them in Andalusia, Maestrazgo, Massif Central, and the Pre-Alps, and restocking them in Corsica. Vulture conservation projects are now happening across Europe, leading to positive trends for species like Cinereous, Griffon, and Bearded Vultures. The population of Egyptian Vulture, considered Endangered, is becoming stable. Also, the Rüppell’s Vulture, originating from Africa and ‘Critically Endangered’, is becoming more common in Europe, and this evolution is being monitored.

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Old and new threats for Neotropical vultures: what is happening with the Andean condor and other vultures

Sergio Lambertucci

The alarming plight of vultures demands immediate attention. Dr. Sergio Lambertucci addresses this critical situation by shedding light on historically understudied Neotropical vultures, focusing on the Andean condor. While comprehensive information on trends and demographics is lacking, Lambertucci’s keynote speech highlights the detrimental impacts of negative perceptions, changing food sources, contamination, human infrastructure, and the recent avian flu arrival. In the past, condors were eating native terrestrial and even marine mammals as found in 2200 year old nest. The shift in condors’ food sources is a pressing concern, with 96% now coming from livestock or exotic species introduced for hunting, leading to new threats like lead or mercury intoxication and poisoning incidents. Global conservation strategies are crucial, considering shared challenges among vultures worldwide.

Investigating the 2022 H5N1 outbreak in French Griffon Vultures

Julien Hirschinger and Olivier Duriez

The global avian influenza outbreak since 2011 has taken an unexpected toll on Griffon Vultures in France. Initially sparing adults, the H5N1 variant caused significant mortality among juveniles, recording lowest ever breeding success. Through a comprehensive study involving 236 vultures, seroprevalence reached 32%. Phylogenetic analysis traced a likely introduction from Spain. The virus disproportionately affected juveniles, altering breeding dynamics, while adults exhibited resilience with minor activity declines. With the virus likely abated, this unprecedented episode underscores the vulnerability of unexpected species and the broader ecological repercussions of avian influenza.

Wildlife Crime Academy

Jovan Andevski

Combatting wildlife crime demands a unified, multi-sectoral approach, championed by national authorities. The Wildlife Crime Academy (WCA) was initiated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation in collaboration with the Regional Government of Andalucía and the Spanish ministry, with financial support from the LIFE Programme and MAVA Foundation. It offers three-level training courses, equipping attendees from various professions with expertise in investigating wildlife crime. Established in 2021, the WCA has conducted five courses attended by 66 representatives from 13 countries.

© Hansruedi Weyrich

Afternoon session

Auditorium

Daily incidence of lead ammunition ingestion in Griffon Vulture in Spain: comparing estimations from regurgitated pellets and blood analysis

Rafael Mateo

A study on Griffon Vultures in Spain reveals the impact of lead (Pb) ammunition ingestion on elevated blood Pb levels. Examining 622 vulture pellets, 9.6% contained Pb or Cu ammunition particles. The prevalence was significantly higher during large game hunting seasons (11.7%). Pellets with game animal remains showed a 17.6% incidence. Estimations indicate a daily incidence of 3.2-3.3% in vultures, explaining the observed 44.5% prevalence of elevated blood Pb levels. These findings underline the link between ammunition ingestion and blood Pb concentration, emphasizing the need for targeted conservation measures to mitigate lead exposure in Griffon Vultures.

Lead ammunition: a widespread threat, hampering the conservation of large avian scavengers in south-central Europe

Enrico Bassi

PB poisoned Cinereous Vulture (left) and Golden Eagle (right) ©CRAS Stretto di Messina – Alessandro Andreotti

A comprehensive study analysed raptor tissue samples, revealing alarming lead contamination in European vultures and eagles. In 111 (44.0%) of 252 carcasses of large raptors, 66 (26.2%) of which clinically poisoned, in south-central Europe. In Massif Central-French Prealps, Griffon Vultures showed higher exposure (44.3%), while in the Alps, Golden Eagles were more exposed (52.0%). In Italy, 59.5% of 148 carcasses exhibited lead levels above background, with 30.4% acutely/chronically poisoned. Shockingly, 77.0% of Apennine large raptors were exposed, of which 23.1% were clinically poisoned. Brain analysis suggested increased lead permeability to the blood-brain barrier. Furthermore, new insights were gained on the effect of Pb on raptors, including high Pb levels in 3 out 7 embryos and chicks of golden eagle and Pb levels between 0.6 and 2.36 mg/kg w.w. in 9 (26.5%) of 34 raptor brains. The findings emphasize the urgent need for a transition to non-toxic ammunition to mitigate the widespread impact on large scavengers. Since hunting is the root cause of lead poisoning in raptors, a transition toward non-toxic lead-free ammunition is urgently required.

Lead and oxidative stress in migrant and resident Turkey Vultures in California

Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati

The Turkey Vulture faces dual threats of lead toxicosis and oxidative stress during migration. Despite California’s ban on lead ammunition, migratory vultures outside the state show higher lead exposure. Migrants exhibit elevated blood lead levels, posing a wider conservation challenge. Among residents, oxidative stress biomarkers suggest increased damage with depleted antioxidants. Strikingly, migrants show a unique response, potentially upregulating antioxidants to meet migration’s oxidative demands. These findings underscore the need for a comprehensive, flyway-focused conservation strategy, recognizing the broader impact of lead exposure on migratory bird populations.

Monitoring veterinary pharmaceutical residues in livestock carcasses and avian scavengers: new compounds in the spotlight

Marta Herrero Villar

In a concerning revelation, a study analysed 49 veterinary pharmaceuticals in livestock carcasses and avian scavengers, particularly Cinereous Vultures in NE Spain. Antibiotics and NSAIDs were prevalent in 54.1% of livestock tissues, with diclofenac, flunixin, and ketoprofen detected, raising toxicity concerns. Avian scavengers showed 51.7% tissue and 28.5% plasma contamination, emphasizing the trophic chain’s vulnerability. Diclofenac’s presence in vulture samples heightens EU concerns after its initial detection. Livestock carcass biomass at feeding stations significantly influenced pharmaceutical presence in avian scavenger plasma, urging comprehensive measures to mitigate veterinary pharmaceutical risks in vulture ecosystems.

Update on addressing the ongoing threat to vultures of veterinary drugs

Chris Bowden

Asia’s Gyps vultures faced catastrophic declines in the 1990s, primarily due to the veterinary drug diclofenac. Regulatory steps in India, Pakistan, and Nepal prevented total extinction, but illegal sales and the use of other toxic drugs persist. The Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) identified NSAIDs as a major threat in 2017, prompting regional conservation efforts. Safety testing, especially in India, has been crucial. However, slow progress in wider regulation, detailed in a CMS Raptors MoU fact sheet, risks undoing gains. The article provides a comprehensive overview of regulatory status, safety testing, and global trends in veterinary NSAID use.

Are the processes regulating the licensing of veterinary NSAIDs in vulture range states fit-for-purpose?

Sophie Cook
A decade of regulatory efforts following the diclofenac-induced vulture crisis in South Asia revealed stabilizing populations but persistently low numbers. The slow ban progress on other vulture-toxic NSAIDs in the region and the recent marketing authorization of veterinary diclofenac in some EU states pose threats to European vultures. Analyzing drug licensing procedures in key vulture habitats, the study exposes challenges: decisions without safety tests for non-target species, limited binding commitments, policy incoherence, transparency issues, and a lack of precautionary measures. Addressing these challenges is crucial for evidence-based veterinary NSAID regulation and vulture conservation.

Sentinel species to inform conservation efforts: an example using griffon and Bearded Vultures to fight against wildlife poisoning

Jorge Rodríguez-Pérez

Wildlife poisoning is a critical factor in vulture decline, particularly in Asturias, Spain. Combatting this threat requires strategic patrolling. Analyzing 16 GPS-tagged Griffon Vultures and 26 Bearded Vultures, the study unveils a novel approach. Griffon Vultures cover vast spaces, while Bearded Vultures face higher poisoning risks in core areas. By aligning patrolling efforts with vulture activity, authorities can address hotspots efficiently While species-specific efforts prove more effective, authorities’ actions remain vital. Identification of overlooked high-activity zones underscores the efficacy of this multi-species approach in combating a significant biodiversity threat.

Pair composition and reproductive success as indicators of the impact of poisoning and population health in a Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) population in Southwestern Spain

Justo Martín Martín

Examining a south-western Spain population of Cinereous Vultures from 2002 to 2020, the study evaluates reproductive dynamics amidst a decline triggered by illegal poisoning. An anti-poisoning strategy led to a 14% reduction in incidents, correlating with a 3.1% annual rise in breeding pairs. While overall breeding success remained stable, pairs with two adults outperformed those with subadults. The decline in mixed pairs, particularly post-2010, reflects the strategy’s efficacy. The study proposes monitoring breeding pairs, especially those with subadults, as an early indicator of population health. Such insights can aid proactive conservation measures for this critical vulture population in south-western Spain.

Using the African Wildlife Poisoning Database and other measures to reduce the impact of poisoning on African vultures and other wildlife.

André Botha

Africa’s vultures are in peril, with six of the ten species facing endangerment. Poisoning is the major culprit, compounded by slow reproduction. The Multi-species Action Plan advocates strategic actions, urging range states to establish databases and combat wildlife poisoning. This presentation delves into the complex drivers of poisoning, revealing its scale and impact on vultures and wildlife, drawing from the African Wildlife Poisoning Database. It showcases successful interventions, including wildlife poisoning response training across 15 African countries. As vultures teeter on the brink, these insights are crucial for shaping effective conservation strategies and preserving biodiversity.

LIFE Balkan Detox project: combating wildlife poisoning across the Balkan peninsula

Uroš Pantović

The BalkanDetox LIFE project addresses a critical conservation concern—wildlife poisoning in the Balkans. Focused on Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia, and Serbia, the initiative strives to reduce vulture and wildlife mortality. By engaging governmental authorities and fostering public awareness, the project establishes National Anti-poisoning Working Groups in six countries. These groups pioneer best practices, enhancing the investigation and sanctioning of criminal poisoning activities. The project’s holistic approach underscores the collaboration of law enforcement, forensics, veterinary medicine, toxicology, and the judiciary, highlighting the imperative need for comprehensive, cross-sectoral involvement in combating wildlife poisoning.

Focused anti-poison efforts to curb mortality rates of Griffon Vultures faced with local extinction in Cyprus

Melpo Apostolidou

Cyprus grapples with rampant animal poisonings, particularly affecting Griffon Vultures, with recent mass incidents reducing the population to just 9. The ‘LIFE with Vultures CY’ project, funded by the EU LIFE Programme, reveals the alarming extent of illegal poison bait use. Anti-poison Dog Units (ApDUs) were introduced in 2022, marking the first systematic effort to monitor bait placement and act fast. Training through the Wildlife Crime Academy enhances investigative capacities. Human-wildlife conflicts were identified as the primary cause, guiding conservation efforts to reduce illegal bait use by addressing underlying conflicts and fostering intolerance toward these harmful practices.

Pilot testing and assessment of methods to reduce human-wildlife conflict as driver of the use of poison in Greece

Victoria Saravia-Mullin

Greece tackles vulture decline exacerbated by human-wildlife conflict. The LIFE project “Egyptian Vulture New Life” promoted protective measures—livestock guardian dogs, including innovative solutions like fladry fences and foxlights—to shield against large carnivores. Local breeders, embracing the methods, report zero losses to predator attacks. While livestock guardian dogs remain popular, a combined approach is favoured. Foxlights, lauded for simplicity, prove effective, contrasting with the time-dependent efficacy of fladry fences. Surveillance cameras confirm method success, aiding a nuanced understanding for informed conservation decisions in the Greek landscape.

Exploring motivations and solutions: understanding poison use in human-wildlife conflicts and conservation management in Morocco

Helena Clavero

In Morocco, the shadow of wildlife poisoning looms large, affecting diverse species, notably vultures. A comprehensive study, probing the motives behind this illegal practice, unveils negative attitudes towards certain wildlife. Human-wildlife conflicts, largely rooted in interference with activities like hunting and agriculture, drive the use of poison. The research underscores a crucial need for awareness initiatives, highlighting the significance of raptors and vultures. To mitigate conflicts, the study recommends active involvement of communities in conservation decision-making. This participatory approach, embedded in the national strategy for raptor conservation, aims to foster communication and reshape perceptions for a harmonious coexistence.

© Hansruedi Weyrich

Sala Europa

The conservation of vultures in an interconnected world: focus on West and Central Africa

Cloé Pourchier

In West Africa, vulture populations, vital for ecosystem balance, face a perilous decline due to illegal hunting. Niger and Chad Basin, identified as vulture hotspots, grapple with insufficient resources hindering conservation. Sahara Conservation’s pioneering programme employs multi-dimensional strategies, featuring nest monitoring and satellite data. Collaborative studies unveil trafficking threats, triggering actions disrupting supply chains. Progress in curbing vulture part sales in Niger is promising, yet a regional approach is imperative. Bridging gaps in vulture knowledge and mortality causes is prioritised for lasting impact, urging collaboration across borders in West and Central Africa for effective conservation.

Belief-based use of vultures in Africa: Finding the balance between conservation and culture

Fadzai Matsvimbo

African Vultures face alarming declines, with belief-based use of their body parts contributing to their demise. BirdLife International delves into this issue across West, Southern, and East Africa. Through market surveys, customer profiling, and engaging with healers, they’ve garnered insights. The reasons for vulture part usage in traditional medicine vary, from foreseeing the future to clairvoyant powers. Solutions involve exploring non-animal alternatives, raising awareness to reduce demand, and aiding healers in alternative income sources. The gathered evidence paves the way for lasting solutions to safeguard vultures across the African landscape, addressing the intricate drivers of their decline.

Andean Condor Research and Conservation in Ecuador

Sebastián Kohn

Ecuador’s Andean Condor, an endangered species with a mere 150 individuals, faces imminent threats, notably from human-dog conflicts and pesticide poisoning. The Andean Condor Research Project, launched in 2012, reveals a dire situation. Comprehensive data, spanning breeding behaviours, genetic isolation, and mortality causes, emphasize the urgent need for concerted conservation efforts. A national commitment to educational initiatives, dog sterilization, and eradication campaigns, backed by robust research, emerges as the key to securing the Andean Condor’s survival in Ecuador.

MsAP Roundtable

Preliminary report and results of the CMS Vulture MsAP Mid-term implementation review

André Botha

In 2017, the CMS Vulture MsAP aimed to safeguard African-Eurasian vultures through 124 actions, endorsed unanimously. As the midway point approaches in 2023, a mid-term review is underway. Led by CMS Raptors MoU, organizations like BirdLife International and RSPB assess the MsAP’s progress across range states. A comprehensive questionnaire yielded 97 responses, evaluating biological and threat statuses. Preliminary results, to be presented at CMS CoP15 in Uzbekistan (2024), will unveil insights into the plan’s effectiveness, shaping the future of vulture conservation strategies.

The Convention on Migratory Species and beyond: collaborative efforts for vulture conservation

Umberto Gallo-Orsi

In a groundbreaking move, the Third Meeting of Signatories of the CMS Raptors MOU identified a vast network of over 7200 sites crucial for raptor conservation in Africa Eurasia. Focusing on vultures, the Raptors MOU addresses emerging threats, notably Belief-Based Use in West Africa, with plans for a comprehensive conservation strategy. The meeting revamped priorities, delivering an updated action plan with specific targets. The CMS avian team’s multifaceted approach encompasses links to AEMLAP, a Wild Meat study, and reviews of CMS Task Forces. This concerted effort marks a significant stride in safeguarding the world’s most endangered raptors.

Tackling the infectious threat: vaccination against West Nile Virus in captive Bearded Vultures

Ursula Höfle

Bearded Vultures, especially in captivity, face a critical threat from West Nile virus (WNV). A Spanish vaccination initiative, employing equip WNV, aimed to safeguard breeding programs. Administered in three stages, the vaccine triggered a robust immune response, particularly in WNV-exposed adults. However, juveniles exhibited a milder response. Those previously exposed to WNV showcased heightened antibody titres, suggesting enhanced protection. Though the vaccination demonstrates efficacy, a nuanced approach considering age and prior exposure emerges as pivotal for sustained immunity, offering insights crucial for Bearded Vulture conservation.

Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza: a new threat to free-living and captive vultures

Alberto Sánchez-Cano

In 2022, Spanish Griffon and Bearded Vultures faced an unexpected threat—highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) H5N1. Surprisingly susceptible, Griffon Vultures showcased survival potential post-infection. A meticulous study, involving 91 vultures and spanning 2021-2023, unveiled critical insights. Griffon Vultures exhibited a unique resistance, surviving HPAIV H5N1 with detectable antibodies. However, the virus impacted Bearded Vultures and even led to misdiagnoses. Notably, autumn 2022 revealed antibodies in some captured vultures, hinting at exposure. Further research aims to unravel the dynamics, addressing potential persistent infections and disease transmission among Griffon Vultures.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A (H5N1) infection in Bearded Vultures in Spain, 2022

Remigio Martinez

The surge in highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) cases since 2020 presents a concerning trend, notably affecting vulture species globally. With over 15,800 reported cases, the study focuses on Bearded Vultures in southwestern Spain. Detailed necropsies uncovered key symptoms and lesions, showcasing the species’ susceptibility to HPAI H5N1. The findings emphasize the broader impact on vulture populations and contribute vital data to understanding the epidemiology and host range of this avian influenza strain.

The vulture’s oral microbiome: interkingdom synergies as functional adaptations

Maria Patrícia Couto

A groundbreaking study delves into vultures’ oral microbiome, offering insights into environmental stress, microbial shifts, and habitat restoration efficacy. Focusing on recovering Gyps fulvus and Aegypius monachus at Portuguese rehabilitation centres, the research unveils Candida’s dominance, promoting symbiotic relationships with anaerobic bacteria like Clostridium perfringens. This unique interplay in biofilm-rich networks suggests adaptive responses to environmental cues, presenting oral dysbiosis as a pivotal stage in self-regulating vulture microbiota. Such findings not only contribute to understanding vulture health but also provide a novel avenue for evaluating habitat stress and restoration outcomes.

Characterization of “silky” phenotype in the European Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

Celine Kalberer

After an 80-year absence, the Bearded Vulture comes back to the Alpine range once more, thanks to a successful captive breeding programme. However, a challenge emerges—three wild fledglings suffer flight impediments due to unexplained feather abnormalities. Extensive examinations rule out common causes, pointing towards a likely homozygous expression of a recessive mutation. Electron microscopy reveals similarities to silky feather mutations in chickens and pigeons. The study, vital for understanding wild bird species, unveils shared feather development processes. These findings not only shed light on Bearded Vulture conservation but offer broader insights into the intricate world of avian feather formation.

Using genetics for creating proper conservation strategies for protected species – the case of Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)

Slobodan Davidović

The Balkan Peninsula hosts a stable Griffon Vulture population crucial for biodiversity. Genetic analyses revealed unique clusters and haplotypes specific to the region, emphasizing the need for tailored conservation strategies. Monitoring exposed distinct migration patterns between Balkan and Iberian vultures. Natal philopatry restricts gene flow, maintaining a distinct genetic fingerprint. Climatic variations further drive divergence, demanding region-specific conservation. The prevalent restocking program with Iberian vultures for the Balkans requires re-evaluation. Protecting the Balkan Griffon Vulture’s genetic diversity is vital for the species and the ecosystem.

Vultures translocations: a model to evaluate the impact of genetics in species restoration

Philippe Helsen

In the realm of species restoration, vulture reintroductions stand out with remarkable success, surpassing many counterparts. Focusing on the French Cinereous Vulture initiative, genetic analyses illuminated intricate pedigrees, aiding in assessing reproduction and breeding biology. By scrutinizing genetic diversity, this study underlines the crucial role of genetics in conservation. Vulture translocations serve as ideal models for evaluating genetic analysis’s potential in shaping effective conservation strategies, emphasizing the synergy between genetic insights and practical action in fostering resilient ecosystems.

Sala Garcia Matos

The Bearded Vulture EEP and its contribution to the advance of knowledge about its biology

Alex Llopis Dell

Intiated in 1978, the Bearded Vulture Reintroduction Project in the Alps focused on captive breeding for conservation. Today, coordinated by the VCF on behalf of EAZA’s EEP. Since start, 638 fledglings were produced, of which 402 were released, and 184 birds still part in ongoing projects. Observations reveal captive birds mirror wild behaviours, enhancing our understanding of vulture ecology. Captive insights informed wild studies, fostering conservation strategies. Innovations in artificial incubation and chick rearing, pioneered in captivity, now elevate the programme’s productivity for Bearded Vulture preservation.

Bred 4 the Wild – Managing the southern Bearded Vulture for ex-situ breeding success

Shannon Hoffman

Nestled in the Maloti-Drakensberg mountains of South Africa and Lesotho, the Bearded Vulture faces a perilous decline, with less than 350 remaining. The Bearded Vulture Recovery Programme strives to avert extinction, implementing the Bred 4 the Wild initiative. This proactive conservation effort involves a novel approach—harvesting eggs to create an ex-situ genetic reserve. A refined egg harvest protocol, addressing cainism behaviour, shows promise. The challenge lies in ensuring behavioural soundness for potential release. A unique three-pronged rearing strategy, blending social interaction, puppet feeding, and visual exposure, holds the key to conserving this iconic species.

Conservation Breeding as a conservation tool for South Asian Gyps vultures

Holly Cale

In response to the alarming crash of South Asian Gyps Vulture populations in 1999, international efforts were launched. The banning of the veterinary drug Diclofenac, identification of the ‘safe’ NSAID Meloxicam, and conservation breeding programmes ensued. This study explores India and Nepal’s approaches, discussing the challenges and successes of long-term conservation breeding. Emphasising the need for passion and ongoing monitoring, the paper addresses the delicate balance of successes and failures. In the face of emerging threats from other toxic NSAIDs, the focus shifts towards averting extinction, urging continued vigilance and strategic conservation measures for these critically endangered species.

Best practice how to release Bearded Vultures into the wild

Alex Llopis Dell

The Bearded Vulture Reintroduction Project, launched in the Alps in 1978, employed a unique hacking method, inspired by falconers, to reintroduce nestlings in natural environments. Unlike the Griffon Vulture’s acclimatisation cage, this approach ensured the young Bearded Vultures could independently forage and defend themselves at 90 days old. Promoting philopatric behaviour, the birds returned to their release site upon maturity. Releasing multiple nestlings facilitated social learning, crucial for a colonial species. Stress-free conditions were paramount, guided by specific recommendations for hacking cave selection, diet, and monitoring. This method enabled a natural fledging process, aligning the reintroduced birds’ behaviour with their wild counterparts.

Analysis of various release techniques for Cinereous Vultures to determine key factors for an optimal release strategy

Marleen Huyghe

A comprehensive analysis of Cinereous Vulture release techniques across Spain, France, and Bulgaria reveals pivotal insights. Drawing from experiences dating back to the 1984 Mallorca translocation, methods encompassing acclimatization aviaries and hacking were employed. Factors impacting successful reintroduction include stress during release, young birds’ mobility, aviary residence duration versus settlement rates, geographical nuances, feeding strategies, conspecific interactions, group sizes, and original colony dispersion. This synthesis of diverse release projects forms the basis for preliminary guidelines, offering a blueprint for optimal Cinereous Vulture reintroduction strategies.

Griffon and Cinereous Vultures delayed release of captive bred individuals in reintroduction programmes in Bulgaria

Emilian Stoynov

Bulgaria’s vulture conservation strides emerge from innovative release methods. Among 400 Griffon Vultures released since 2009, those acclimated in aviaries showed higher success rates than traditional releases. Captive-bred individuals, released after the second year, displayed lower emigration rates. Meanwhile, classic hacking for Cinereous Vultures yielded a mere 0.22 survival rate. A promising alternative emerged through acclimatisation aviaries, with a captive-bred Cinereous Vulture’s delayed release. These findings suggest an efficient, cost-effective approach, essential for scarce species reintroduction. Ongoing experimentation aims to refine methods, enhancing outcomes for Bulgaria’s vulture conservation initiatives.

Effect of different release strategies on the movements and mortality of restocked Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) in Sardinia

Ilaria Fozzi

In the realm of conservation translocation, the deliberate relocation of Griffon Vultures in Sardinia from 2016 to 2021 was examined to ascertain the efficacy of soft and hard-release strategies. Utilizing GPS/GSM transmitters on 38 restocked vultures, the study compared the spatial behaviour and mortality rates following no- (NA), short- (SA), and long-acclimatization (LA) periods. Results revealed that soft release with a prolonged acclimatization period exhibited superior outcomes, fostering home range stability and heightened survival rates. Notably, 71.4% of long-acclimatized vultures achieved sexual maturity, contrasting with 28.6% in hard-release scenarios. These findings advocate for the adoption of soft-release strategies, particularly with extended acclimatization, in Griffon Vulture conservation efforts.

The effect of extreme weather conditions on the survival of translocated Griffon Vultures in a desert climate in Israel

Nili Anglister

Griffon Vulture conservation faces challenges in Israel, where translocation efforts encounter high post-release mortality in the Judean Desert. Research revealed heat stress as a significant factor, with translocated vultures experiencing extreme temperatures. Limited flight capacity and inexperience further contributed. Adjustments to release protocols, including winter releases, significantly improved survival rates. These findings showcase the importance of continuous research for optimizing conservation strategies, ensuring the success of Griffon Vulture recovery in the face of extinction risk.

The contribution of AMUS to vulture recovery and conservation

Sofia  Marrero Rocha

In Extremadura, a prime habitat for scavenger birds, AMUS highlights three decades of successful conservation efforts. Collaborative initiatives with the Public Administration, exemplified in large Griffon and Black Vulture colonies, showcase responsible care. Achievements include targeted feeding stations, tagging campaigns, and biomedical controls. AMUS’s expertise spans climate crisis impacts, reproduction stages, and innovative trauma medicine for vultures. Mistakes and successes inform their commitment to reducing problems. With partnerships and shared knowledge, AMUS aims to advance further, emphasizing co-participation for global conservation awareness and progress.

Restoring and connecting Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus) colonies to reestablish the former European range of distribution of the species

Davide Montanari

GREFA’s Monachus Project addresses the quasi-extinction of Cinereous Vultures in Europe, focusing on safe corridors and genetic diversity. Successful sites in Spain, Bulgaria, and Italy demonstrate progress, such as the Sierra de Boumort colony’s growth to 70 individuals and Sierra de la Demanda’s establishment of 85 vultures in seven years. Els Ports National Park’s 2022 initiative aims to connect existing colonies, while international collaborations in Bulgaria and Sardinia contribute to species restoration. GREFA’s reintroduction model, since 2007, guides European efforts, emphasizing safe movement corridors and the restoration of the species’ historical distribution range with humility.

Reintroduction of the Cinereous Vulture in the Bulgarian part of the Eastern Rhodopes

Stoycho Stoychev

The Cinereous Vulture, once abundant in the Balkans, faced a drastic decline. In Bulgaria, absent for nearly three decades, a reintroduction effort in the Balkan Mountains successfully returned the breeding species in 2021. The Eastern Rhodopes, Greece, houses the remaining Balkan breeding colony with 30 pairs, threatened by poisoning and other risks. To reinforce this population and aid Bulgarian return, a 2020 feasibility study paved the way for a 2022 reintroduction. Seventeen Spanish-origin Cinereous Vultures were released in November 2022, with ongoing monitoring revealing successes and challenges, including four deaths and a wind turbine collision survivor, emphasizing the delicate balance of species restoration efforts.

Large vultures’ reintroductions in Bulgaria, update 2023

Simeon Marin The LIFE projects in Bulgaria revived Griffon and Cinereous Vultures in Bulgaria, restoring nesting species after 70 and 50 years, respectively. From 2010-2023, 400 Griffon Vultures were released, forming breeding colonies with 49-60 pairs raising 30+ chicks annually. Vultures back to LIFE reintroduced Cinereous Vultures with 79 imported in 2018-2023. Adaptation aviaries outperformed hacking in settling released individuals. By mid-2023, 11-12 vulture pairs formed, successfully reproducing. Causes of death included depredation, poisoning, and accidents, underscoring ongoing challenges in vulture.

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