The first releases of Bearded Vultures into the wild in 2023 happened just one week ago, on 24 April. Two female Bearded Vulture were released in Cazorla Nature Park to strengthen the Andalusian population.
Two Bearded Vulture females released in Andalusia
The two females Bearded Vulture released hatched at the Richard Faust Zentrum Specialised Breeding Centre (RFZ). They descend from the same breeding pair, BG108 and BG175, an old and successful pair that became well known for laying the first eggs in the last breeding seasons.
The chick BG 1159 hatched on 19 January and was the first hatchling of this season. The second female, Bearded Vulture BG 1160, hatched 8 days later, on 27 January 2023. The young birds were released in Cazorla Nature Park, within the reintroduction project in Andalusia, running since 1996. The females will help strengthening the local population and will hopefully return to Andalusia once they reach sexual maturity!
Replicating the natural way of fledgling to reintroduce Bearded Vultures
The captive-bred Bearded Vultures are released with the ‘hacking method’, used to mimetise the species’ natural way of fledging. The technical staff places the birds in artificial nests built in very inaccessible rocky cliffs, which resemble wild nests of the species. The females Bearded Vulture will be able to take their first flight in 20 to 30 days, until then, technicians from Junta de Andalusia will be able to monitor their development from afar.
With this method, the nestlings will be acclimatized to the natural environment and can associate the release site as their hatching site, so that when they reach breeding maturity in 8-10 years, they select this place to breed. During their first years of life, Bearded Vulture tend to travel vast distances and explore new regions, however, they typically return to the place where they hatched to breed.
Reintroducing Bearded Vultures in Andalusia
Bearded Vultures became extinct in Andalusia back in 1986. 10 years later, Junta de Andalucia, with the collaboration of the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the former Fundación Gypaetus, started a reintroduction project to bring the species back. The first releases into the wild happened in 2006 and since then 83 Bearded Vultures have been released.
The first successful breeding in the wild in Andalusia happened in 2015. The chick was named after Esperanza (which means hope in Spanish), descending from Tono, a male released in 2006 and Blimunda, released in 2010. Thanks to ongoing efforts to tackle the main threats the species face in the region, the Bearded Vulture population is steadily growing. There are currently 5 breeding pairs and 43 individuals confirmed in Andalusia.
How do we select birds to be released into the wild?
Every year, the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA’s EEP (Bearded Vulture EEP), works alongside multiple partners to ensure the best breeding results for the species and support conservation initiatives. The Bearded Vulture EEP’s coordinator, Alex Llopis, allocates chicks to reintroduction and restocking projects ongoing in Europe, based on the needs of the different populations and other parameters such as genetics, sex ratio and the availability of chicks.
This captive-breeding season 2022/2023 set a new record, with a total of 80 eggs laid and 37 chicks hatched! From the 35 chicks that survived, 21 will be released into the wild in the coming weeks. As every year some captive Bearded Vultures die or reach the end of their sexual maturity, it is fundamental to hold in captivity some of the hatched Bearded Vultures, to ensure genetic diversity and the continuity of the Bearded Vulture EEP.
Captive-breeding plays a vital role to restore Bearded Vulture populations in Europe
The Bearded Vulture EEP gathers 44 institutions, which includes ZOOs, private centres, NGOs and specialised breeding centres. Once the eggs hatch, Bearded Vultures held in captivity naturally rear chicks, to ensure the released juveniles will behave like wild birds. Captive breeding plays a vital role in fulfilling our ambition to restore the European Bearded Vulture populations in the wild. To achieve this, we release young birds in priority areas where the species has disappeared or is under threat.
The next releases will happen in the Grands Causses and Baronnies (France), as an important conservation action within the LIFE GypAct project, to secure the Bearded Vulture metapopulation between the Alps and the Pyrenees.
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