Agata and Sara, the two female Egyptian vultures born in captivity, had been released in Southern Italy in the end of August as part of an experiment to test procedures and get crucial data on the feasibility and relevance of captive-breeding and restocking/reintroduction projects with this species.
While Agata left the hacking site in Puglia towards the southwest, towards Calabria, and then Sicily, crossing the strait of Messina on the 23rd August, Sara moved southeast, towards Lecce, but then made the 140 km sea crossing over the Jonic sea (on the 29th August) spent some time in Calabria, and in the last two days crossed into Sicily and made it to the west coast..
Agata spent 4 days in Sicily, crossing it from East to West, and spent some time in a rubbish dump there, but then the 29th August flew southwest over Favignana island, and then onwards towards the open Mediterranean in direction of Cap Blanc in Tunisia about 130 km away – the well-established migration route for Italian Egyptian vultures and many other migrants. Then, midway throughout the sea crossing, the bird suddenly veered south, and then east, and probably drowned of exhaustion in the med later that day, about 1000 km from the release site. The transmitter did not stop working tough, as the dead bird, which had hatched in Zlin Zoo in the Czech Republic, is probably drifting east along the Mediterranean, north of Pantelleria.
This event echoes the data coming from the LIFE project “Return of the Neophron” (see http://lifeneophron.eu/), during which a number of young Egyptian vultures hatched in the Balkans tagged with satellite devices have drowned while crossing the Mediterranean – suggesting a high mortality of young Egyptian vultures.
We now hope that Sara is wiser – and also that the four Egyptian vultures released this week in Calabria within the same experiment, led by CERM (on behalf of the Italian Ministry of the Environment), in collaboration with the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Egyptian vulture EEP, are luckier. One thing is certain – they are providing valuable data on release methods and their immediate movements post-release that could be very useful in any future conservation project.
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