And the Oscar for the earliest breeder goes to… Marie Antoinette! She is a superb female bearded vulture paired with a male called Josef, in the facilities run by ASTERS – Conservatoire d´Espaces Naturels Haute Savoie (see photos).
Marie Antoinette has a curious story – Born in 1998 in Innsbruck Zoo, within the bearded vulture breeding network managed by the VCF, she was released into the wild as a young vulture on the 1st of June 1998 in Haute Savoie (French Alps). Five years later, precisely on the 19/05/2004, this magnificent female collided with a power line, and broke a wing. After a short period of rehabilitation, she was sent to the breeding center Asters where one month later received a mate – a male born in 1998 in the specialized breeding center in Haringsee, and kept for captive breeding.
Marie Antoinette and Josef laid their first clutch in 2005/2006, but only raised their first young in 2010 – this one was released into the wild in Vercors (southwest Alps). In 2011 they failed, but were successful again in 2011, raising a chick which was released in the Calfeisental valley in Central Switzerland. This year they were one of the earliest breeder too, laying an egg on the 8th December 2013, and successfully raising a chick, released in the reintroduction project in Cazorla (southern Spain) last June.
We hope they will again be successful this year – for the moment, they beat al lthe other pairs to lay the first egg of the bearded vulture breeding season. Bearded vultures are one of the earliest breeders in Europe – their timing perfectly adapted to have chicks in early spring, when many of the mountain herbivores on which they feed (when they die) have their first births – and birth complications! The snow and cold of their mountain realms does not deter them, and so they incubate through the cold winter months.
The Vulture Conservation Foundation is the coordinator of the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), a collaborative and coordinated network of over 30 zoos, wildlife parks, specialized breeding centers and private collections, that aims to breed the species in captivity for conservation purposes. The bearded vulture EEP is at the base of the ongoing reintroduction projects in the Alps, Cazorla (Southern Spain) and Cevennes (Central France). In the Alps they species is staging a remarkable comeback, with 30 established territories 100 years after it went extinct there.