The LIFE GypConnect project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and the Pre-Alps through reintroduction, tackling threats and promoting dispersal movements between the Alps and the Pyrenean population. The project has come a long way since its beginning in 2015, and it is now almost concluded.
The tenth newsletter of LIFE GypConnect, La Plume du Life, is now published, providing an overview of the project’s progress. You can access the LIFE GypConnect newsletter on the project’s website in French or read the highlights summarised in this blog post.
Captive breeding and reintroduction
After the internationally recognised success of the reintroduction projects of the Griffon Vulture and then the Cinereous Vulture in France, the LIFE GypConnect project partners have taken up the challenge of reintroducing the Bearded Vulture in the Grands Causses.
Initially, the LIFE GypConnect project has foreseen the release of 24 young, captive-bred Bearded Vultures to the key reintroduction areas in Vercors, Baronnies and the Massif Central, yet it exceeded the expectations, releasing a total of 42 birds into the wild between 2016 to 2021. coming from the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA’s European Endangered Species Programme (Bearded Vulture EEP). Currently, 11 individuals are present in the Grands Causses: 2 adults (2 males, released in 2013 and 2014 respectively), 1 sub-adult (not yet identified), 5 immatures (3 females and 1 male released in 2020, and one male released in 2019) and 3 juveniles (2 females and 1 male released in 2021). It is important to note that the acquisition of the LIFE GypConnect has increased tenfold the technical and financial resources needed to carry out these operations.
Tackling threats to combat vulture mortality
With its many successes, the project team also dealt with many setbacks. Mortalities represent a significant amount of released Bearded Vultures individuals – 13 have died to be precise. The limited number of birds needed for release per year and the diversity of mortality causes illustrate the complexity of such a reintroduction programme (disease, trauma, predation etc.). Apart from natural mortality causes, anthropogenic threats have a definite impact (dangerous electricity infrastructures, illegal shooting or poisoning, etc.), and actions to reduce these threats must continue.
Establishing pairs and connecting populations
On a positive note, in 2017, the first territorial pair composed of two males settled in the Jonte gorges – we hope for a female to join them soon! A pair was also established in the Drome and three pairs in the Aude (where there were no releases). Additionally, some immature individuals (released between 2017 and 2020) do not show dispersal behaviour (they have not left the southern Massif Central since their release), while others have already made several round trips between the Pyrenees and the Grands Causses. Finally, the project noted several visits by outsiders: three individuals released in the Pre-Alps have already visited the southern Massif Central since 2012. Connections between massifs are therefore well and truly underway. However, these encouraging signals cannot, at this stage, guarantee the establishment, let alone the viability, of this reintroduced population, which is at the heart of any biodiversity restoration programme of this nature.
More efforts are necessary to secure a viable breeding population
While waiting impatiently for the first successful Bearded Vulture breeding in the wild on the Grands Causses territory, releases must continue in order to reach the establishment of a viable and reproductive population in the south of the Massif Central. In the heart of a highly anthropised environment, particular attention is necessary for actions aimed at reducing threats. Another crucial element for success is mobilising all the relevant stakeholders in the target territories to attain coexistence between local communities and nature.
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.