In Portugal, Cinereous Vultures chicks are almost ready to fledge. As this is the most critical period of the year for the species, it is essential to have well-informed and capable local teams that can act swiftly in case a bird is detected fallen from its nest or injured. The LIFE Aegypius Return, in collaboration with five Wildlife Recovery Centres, organised training sessions on rescuing, handling and transporting Cinereous Vultures to increase the capacity of police officers working in the Nature and Environment Protection Service SEPNA/GNR and ICNF Rangers, within the species distribution range.
135 police officers from GNR trained on rescuing and handling Cinereous Vultures
Five wildlife recovery centres opened their doors to militaries from GNR / SEPNA and Rangers (Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e Florestas – ICNF) in June. One hundred thirty-five agents participated in four training sessions to strengthen technicians’ ability to act swiftly if Cinereous Vultures (Aegypius monachus) needed to be rescued across the Portuguese territory.
The training combined theoretical sessions and practical activities of capturing and handling fauna, particularly large-bodied birds. The training sessions also covered methods for detecting endangered or weakened animals, principles for effective action by the GNR and Rangers, and safe procedures for transporting injured animals.
Four training sessions on Vulture rescue and handling were held at Wildlife Recovery Centres
In Portugal, along with Rangers, SEPNA/GNR police officers are responsible for rescuing and transporting wild animals found in distress or weakened. The rescued animals are then sent to Wildlife Recovery Centres to be rehabilitated. The training sessions took place in five Recovery Centres from north to southern Portugal to ensure national coverage of Cinereous Vultures’ breeding and foraging areas. As a partner organisation of the LIFE Aegypius Return project, GNR identified officers from those territories to participate in the training session. Rangers from ICNF were also invited and joined the training sessions.
Northern Portugal is home to the most vulnerable Cinereous Vulture colony in the Douro International Nature Park area. Twenty-five agents participated in the training that took place at the Environmental Interpretation and Animal Recovery Centre (CIARA), in collaboration with the Wild Animal Recovery Centre of the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (CRAS-HVUTAD). The end of the session was celebrated with the release of a recovered black kite (Milvus migrans).
Two Cinereous Vulture colonies are in central Portugal, specifically at Serra da Malcata Nature Reserve and the Tejo Internacional Nature Park. When debilitated birds are found near the Malcata Reserve, they are transported to the Centre for Ecology, Recovery and Surveillance of Wild Animals (CERVAS) in Gouveia, managed by the Aldeia Association, that host one of the training sessions attended by 50 participants, including some ICNF Rangers too.
With the high number of participants, the session was primarily theoretical. However, at the request of several policy officers interested in deepening the technical component, new sessions will be held to practice capturing and handling large birds.
Birds rescued near the Tejo Internacional Nature Park area are sent to the Centre for the Study and Recovery of Wild Animals (CERAS), managed by the Quercus Association. The second training in central Portugal was attended by 20 participants and included practical activities of handling unrecoverable individuals and a visit to the facilities.
Injured or debilitated birds and animals found in Southern Portugal, including from Moura, where the fourth Cinereous Vulture colony is located (at Herdade da Contenda), may be referred to the Wild Animal Recovery and Research Centre (RIAS) in Olhão. Forty agents joined the training, which included a technical visit to the facilities.
Inter-institutional cooperation is vital to the conservation of Cinereous Vultures in Portugal.
The Cinereous Vulture is a Critically Endangered species in Portugal, with an estimated population of 40 breeding pairs in four colonies at the eastern border with Spain. To reverse the vulnerability of the Portuguese colonies and double the number of breeding pairs by 2027, the LIFE Aegypius Return project has played a vital role in promoting a multidisciplinary and interinstitutional approach in the conservation actions implemented and mitigating the main threats affecting the species.
The training sessions on vulture rescue and handling are fundamental to improving the response of local agents when birds are found in distress. A protocol will also be published soon to inform citizens and stakeholders on procedures to be followed in case of detection of a Cinereous Vulture fallen from the nest or weakened. The aim is to ensure that rescued birds arrive at wildlife centres in the best possible condition for their recovery.
Building capacity is a fundamental aim of the project. Recently, project partners organised an informative session to promote the transition to lead-free ammunition, a toxic component with sublethal and lethal effects on scavenging birds. Soon, hunters will have the chance to attend training sessions with a ballistic expert to facilitate their transition to lead-free ammunition.
What to do when you find a bird weakened or in danger in Portugal?
If you find a bird or other animal injured or in danger, inform the authorities through the GNR / SEPNA by calling the SOS Environment and Territory line on 808 200 520.
The Vulture Conservation Foundation, coordinator beneficiary of the LIFE Aegypius Return project, is grateful for the involvement and availability of the Recovery Centres that hosted and facilitated the training sessions on rescuing and handling Cinereous Vultures.
The LIFE Aegypius Return Project
The LIFE Aegypius Return is a 3.7 million project, co-financed by the European Union’s LIFE Programme, whose success relies on the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and the extensive collaboration of the leading project partner, the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), with all local partners: Palombar – Conservação da Natureza e do Património Rural, Herdade da Contenda, Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (LPN), Associação Transumância e Natureza (ATN), Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre (FNHY), Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) and Associação Nacional de Proprietários Rurais Gestão Cinegética e Biodiversidade (APNC).