CERM, the Endangered Raptors Centre NGO based in Italy, has recently published technical guidelines for the Egyptian Vulture, providing a comprehensive framework for breeding the species in captivity and strategically releasing captive-bred individuals into the wild. Produced within the framework of the LIFE Egyptian Vulture project, these guidelines are designed to do more than inform — they aspire to ignite action. By sharing insights and methodologies, the document’s aim is to bolster conservation endeavours within captive facilities and resume the wealth of knowledge accumulated by CERM over two decades of dedicated work with this species.
The Egyptian Vulture is the only vulture species declining in Europe
The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is the smallest of all European vulture species. Globally considered Endangered (IUCN RedList), it is the only European vulture whose population is declining in several countries (read our Population estimates for the five vulture species, VCF, 2022).
Over the last five decades, several vulture species have greatly benefited from reintroduction projects, particularly the Bearded Vulture, which successfully returned to the Alps. Ongoing reintroduction initiatives involving Griffon Vultures and Cinereous Vultures are also making strides in various European regions. The release of captive-bred individuals into suitable habitats or areas where subpopulations face unfavourable conditions represents a crucial conservation strategy that has yielded positive results.
Breeding Egyptian Vultures in captivity in Italy
In Italy, it runs a captive-breeding centre for the Egyptian Vulture, the only specialised centre for the species in Europe that hosts the largest captive stock globally. The captive-breeding programme started in 1993 and, in 2006, was moved to CERM installations and reinforced. Currently, the centre hosts 41 Egyptian Vultures; several are wild-hatched but have unrecoverable injuries, others were imprinted, and some were born in captivity and kept as a breeder.
“Between 1993-2023, 75 chicks were born at CERM, and 73 reached fledging age. 32 Egyptian Vultures were born in the framework of the LIFE Egyptian Vulture project (2017-2023).”Ceccolini G. & Cenerini A., 2023
Technical Guidelines for captive-breeding and releasing captive-bred Egyptian Vultures
Recently, CERM, in the framework of the LIFE Egyptian Vulture project, has produced a technical handbook to share their experience on handling and managing the species in captivity. The document includes a broader array of information, from an overview of the facilities and management recommendations to pair formation, egg incubation, and, finally, the release of young individuals in the wild.
Understanding the species’ behaviour at the individual level is fundamental to successfully pairing Egyptian Vultures (and any other species; for instance, see how we pair Bearded Vultures). The guidelines also present detailed advice on dealing with fighting pairs, artificially incubating eggs and understanding the fitness of birds to be released.
Download the Technical Guidelines for the Egyptian Vulture
Analysing the behaviour of the species in captivity, extracted from the technical guidelines © CERM
Releasing captive-bred Egyptian Vultures
The document encompasses recommendations for hacking facilities and different release methods that have been tried. It also includes post-release monitoring strategies and the maintenance of feeding stations.
One of the most successful stories in Italy happened with the Egyptian Vulture Sara, hatched in CERM in 2015 and released in Italy. Sara made the headlines when she returned to Italy after spending five years in Africa. In 2022, she hit the news again, becoming the first captive-bred Egyptian Vulture to breed successfully in the wild. In 2023, Sara and her partner had another successful breeding season, but the female bird unfortunately passed away while migrating back to Africa.
The Italian Egyptian Vulture population is on a stable trajectory
According to the authors, after a significant decline of all vulture populations in Italy after World War II, the country now hosts 10-12 breeding pairs of Egyptian Vultures, most located in the south. Remarkably, in 2019, a pair successfully bred for the first time in Sardinia, where there was no historical record of the species. The conservation initiatives to strengthen the fragile Griffon Vulture population (with the LIFE Safe for Vultures) were pivotal in attracting the Egyptian Vultures, leading to successful reproduction in 2020 and the last season, 2023.
“However, the small population size and the restricted and fragmented breeding range expose the species to the risk of extinction in the near future.”Ceccolini G. & Cenerini A., 2023
CERM will continue breeding the species in captivity and releasing them in the most suitable sites.
- Ceccolini G. & Cenerini A., 2023. Technical handbook – Management of captive Egyptian vultures and release of captive-bred individuals. LIFE Egyptian vulture project, LIFE16 NAT/IT/000659, E.5 action, www.lifegyptianvulture.it. Semproniano (Italy).
- More information: https://www.capovaccaio.it/cms/
- Find out more about the Project LIFE Egyptian Vulture at https://www.lifegyptianvulture.it/en/