2016 Report on the black vulture captive breeding network

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The Eurasian black vulture European endangered Species Programme (EEP) is a coordinated breeding network of zoos and animal parks under the umbrella of EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.  It aims to reproduce this endangered species in captivity to build a sustainable back up population and eventually release young into the wild, in which the VCF plays a key role. In particular, captive bred birds from the EEP are important at the start of a new release site as chicks, put at an age of 3 months on a hacking site – imprint the neighbourhood more easily and the chances that they will stay in the area are thus higher.

There are in 2016, 169 birds in 44 partners across the continent, including 43 breeding pairs, a bit less than in 2015 but with higher success.  11 chicks hatched and 8 chicks survived.

Breeding Eurasian black vultures in captivity is a real challenge: to be successful, breeding pairs need to have a very strong pair bond and the species is very sensitive to disturbance. In the 3 existing dating aviaries juveniles can pick their partner in a natural way. Pair bounding within these specialized aviaries is evaluated through observations of well-defined behaviors. Once a strong pair bond is observed the pair is housed in a breeding aviary in one of the participating zoos. Before and during the breeding period disturbance should be avoided. From 2012 on releases of young chicks were very much restricted to strengthen the demography of the ex situ population of Eurasian black vultures and enable releases of chicks in the new release sites in Bulgaria planned for 2018 (Life project Vultures Back to Life).

In the population which suffered from a sex bias towards males in the past, in particular more mature females than male, the last 3 years more males are born than females.  

This Eurasian black vulture EEP is run by Planckendael Zoo (Belgium) and coordinated by Marleen Huyghe (marleen.huyghe@kmda.org). This EEP is conducting important genetic research, coordinated by Philippe Helsen (philippe.helsen@kmda.org ), in a specialized lab, operated by the Centre for Research and Conservation, situated in Antwerp zoo and. Research is multiple, overarches both captive and the wild populations, and eventually aims to get to a better understanding of the species. Collaborations are a crucial key to success here. Together with LPO, the National History Museum in Paris and Centre d’Ecologie Functionelle & Evolution in Montpellier, we recently enrolled in genetical survey of the French release sites, which doubtfully will generate interesting insights in how reintroductions work.

Photo: VCF

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