In Sardinia, Italy, another two vulture feeding stations were installed on private farms in the last weeks. An important conservation measure to increase food availability for the Endangered Sardinian Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) population. Implemented within the LIFE Safe for Vultures project framework, there are currently nine feeding stations on farms, and the project foresees the installation of new ones in other areas of the Italian island.
Installing feeding stations in Sardinian farms to boost the Endangered Griffon Vulture population
On 21 October, the ninth vulture feeding station in a private farm was installed in Sardinia. Uniss staff, with Dr Sara Cagelli’s support from the Sassari ASL’s veterinary services, installed the feeder in the municipality of Ozieri at the Cabigliera&Zidda Formaggi company. On the week before, with the support of the veterinarians of the Cagliari Local Health Authority (Dr Angelo Rosanio and Dr Claudio Cozzolino), Uniss staff installed another four vulture feeders in the municipality of Sinnai. The project foresees installing new feeding stations in Sardinian farms.
The fenced areas offer a solution to livestock producers while benefiting vultures. Owners can directly leave the domestic animals that passed away in those fenced areas instead of having them collected by disposal services. This action represents a financial benefit for the owners with the avoided costs and reduces carbon dioxide emissions during carcass transport and disposal. Also, a recent study sheds light on how vultures can help mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As one of the most efficient terrestrial scavenger species, they rapidly consume tissues, skin and organs, avoiding GHG releases through natural decomposition or by other disposal methods. Finally, the fenced areas will increase the availability of food for the Griffon Vultures in a wider range of the island,
Boosting the Griffon Vulture population in Sardinia
Sardinia was once home to three species of vultures: the Griffon, Cinereous and Bearded Vulture. Several threats during the last decades of the 20th century led to the extinction of the previous two species, and only the Griffon Vulture survived. From an estimated 800-1200 individuals in the 1940s, the Griffon Vulture population was confined to the north-western part of the island, with only 30 breeding pairs and 130 individuals in 2013. This remaining colony holds an important genetic heritage since it is Italy’s last natural breeding population. To help reverse the Griffon Vulture population decline and tackle the main threats hindering species’ recovery, the LIFE Safe for Vultures project builds on the experience and results of the previous project, LIFE Under Griffon Wings, and ensures the conservation actions’ continuity.
Releasing Griffon Vultures in Sardinia
The local Griffon Vulture guild is about to welcome new members. In March this year, 12 Griffon Vultures that hatched in the wild in Spain were transferred to Sardinia to reinforce the fragile population. Since their arrival on the island, the birds have been in the acclimatisation aviary, an essential step before releasing the birds into the wild. Two juvenile Griffon Vultures bred in captivity in Holland were released earlier this year.
The project follows a soft-release approach, which has proven to perform better results in a recently published article. Researchers analysed the home range stability and survival of 38 Griffon Vultures that have been translocated to Sardinia and released following different strategies.
Conservation Actions benefiting Griffon and Egyptian Vultures
In addition to releasing new individuals and ensuring food availability, the conservation actions implemented with the LIFE Safe for Vulture include mitigating the main threats affecting vulture survival. Securing power lines and energy infrastructure and fighting wildlife poisoning, with capacity building and dog units established on the island. Although the current LIFE project aims to ensure the long-term survival of the fragile Griffon Vulture guild in Sardinia, the conservation actions put into practice as part of the project are granting conditions for other scavenger species to flourish as well.
The Egyptian Vulture pair that settled in Porte Conte Regional Park in the spring of 2019 bred successfully again this year. The information was shared by the LIFE Safe for Vulture partners, which have been monitoring the pair since its first breeding attempt. The vulture feeding station network installed in private farms will certainly be an important food source for this species.
The LIFE Safe for Vultures project
LIFE Safe for Vultures is a project co-financed by the EU’s LIFE Programme, acting as the first step to the restoration of the vulture guild in Sardinia. The University of Sassari leads the project in collaboration with Agenzia Regionale Forestas, Sardegna Corpo Forestale, E-Distribuzione and the Vulture Conservation Foundation. LIFE Safe for Vultures builds on the work of the successful LIFE Under Griffon Wings, with the ultimate objective for Griffon Vultures to regain their historic ranges and distribution areas from the central-eastern part of Sardinia to the south and at the same time promote the long-term survival of the species on the island. The project team is working to expand the network of farm feeding stations, create several anti-poison dog units to tackle wildlife poisoning, establish an additional feeding station in the south of the island, restock the population by importing 40 additional Griffon Vultures and reduce the threat of collision and electrocution with energy infrastructures.