A juvenile Griffon Vulture, born in the wild this year in the northwest of Sardinia, ventured far to the island’s southeastern corner. Originating from the last Sardinian breeding population, this adventurous bird made its way to Villasalto, triggering the curiosity of many locals as the species has been absent from this island region for decades. The Sardinian Griffon Vulture population’s fate is changing thanks to the ongoing efforts of the LIFE Safe for Vultures project.
The unexpected incursion of a juvenile Griffon Vulture in Southeastern Sardinia
Griffon Vultures (like many other European Vulture species) tend to disperse and explore vast areas outside their home range in their first years of life. Months ago, a Griffon Vulture visited Corsica and flew back to Sardinia some days later. The local teams get a clear picture of the birds’ dispersion patterns thanks to the GPS transmitters that many released birds carry.
It is not the first time a Griffon Vulture has ventured south, and the frequency of visits to this Sardinian region has increased over the last few years. However, this juvenile had a different behaviour. Locals spotted it as it briefly explored a private vegetable garden and wandered on a crop of aubergines before deciding to head back home. What happened to the juvenile Griffon Vulture?
Rescued and brought to the acclimatisation aviary at Villasalto
The Griffon Vulture was rescued and brought to the Wildlife Recovery Centre (CARFS) of the Agenzia Forestas in Monastir. After a health check, the bird was taken to the new aviary facility in Villasalto, where it will stay with the other 12 Griffon Vultures translocated from Spain earlier this year. In the coming months, they will be released together in the southern part of the island.
The Griffon Vulture population in Sardinia
Griffon Vultures were a common sight across Sardinia until the late 1940s. After the Second World War, the population plummeted across the entire country and on the island, the last breeding colony was confined to the northwestern corner. The Sardinian Griffon Vulture guild is also the last autochthonous population of the species in Italy, holding an important genetic heritage.
In 2013, when there were only 130 individuals left in the wild in Sardinia, conservation measures started to be implemented under the Life Under Griffon Wings. To strengthen the endangered population, over 60 Griffon Vultures were translocated and released on the island, following three different strategies (that merited a recently published scientific paper).
Restocking the endangered Sardinian population
The Life Safe for Vultures project aims to replicate the most effective release methods of the previous project and expand the interventions to the entire island. As the soft release method (which foresees a temporary period of enclosure in acclimatisation aviaries) proved the most effective, a new aviary was built in Villasalto, along with a vulture feeding station.
In March this year, 12 Griffon Vultures from Spain arrived in Sardinia and are currently in the aviary, getting used to their new home before being released in the wild. The birds will be released in the coming months, an attempt to establish another breeding nuclei in southern Sardinia. The presence of other Griffon Vultures inside the aviary and the availability of food in the feeding station are intended to encourage restocking operations. The unexpected incursion of this juvenile shows the attractiveness of the Southern region and is a positive reinforcement of the project’s objectives and efforts made so far.
Mitigating the main threats affecting Griffon Vulture survival
In addition to the restocking efforts, the LIFE Safe for Vultures is actively mitigating the main threats affecting the population’s survival. Actions include securing and insulating power lines and energy infrastructures, keeping vulture feeding stations, preventing poisoning incidents by establishing an anti-poison dog unit, and directly working with hunters to transition to lead-free ammunition. The conservation measures are enabling a positive recovery of the Griffon Vulture guild but also creating the conditions for other vulture species to thrive on the island. This year, an Egyptian Vulture pair successfully bred again in Sardinia!
The LIFE Safe for Vultures
LIFE Safe for Vultures is a project co-financed by the EU’s LIFE Programme, acting as the first step to restoring 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.