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Bearded Vulture breeding season: life and death in the captive breeding network (on video)

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Each breeding season in the Bearded Vulture captive breeding network – coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation and at the base of all the reintroduction projects we are involved with – is unique. And each year we have good and bad stories, lovely successes and some failures.

While some of us were very busy fighting the diclofenac threat (see news items below), the usual drama of new life and unexpected deaths was unfolding in the 30+ zoos and breeding centers in our network. While in the Liberec Zoo two birds hatched from the double clutch and are now growing strong, in the Guadalentin breeding centre a beech marten (Martes foina) killed a well-grown young, snatching it from under the brooding adult!

In Andalusia, a young Bearded Vulture dies!

On the 2nd March a beech marten (a common carnivore in the Iberian mountains) managed to enter one of the Bearded Vulture cages in the Guadalentin breeding center and “stole” a 14-days old chick from under the mothers chest  (see the incredible video below, shot through an infra-red video camera). Surprisingly, the adult bird didn’t react! It was a very dark, cloudy, winter night in Andalusia, so maybe the female could not see the approaching predator? This is the first time such an incident occurred in the breeding network – last year we had a genet wounding a young in the same center, so a special protective fence was installed until a certain height, but this marten has jumped from a nearby tree onto the roof and managed to get in through there. (Video courtesy of Junta de Andalucia)

In compensation, new life blossomed in Liberec Zoo

Two young Bearded Vultures hatched from the eggs laid by the successful Bearded Vulture breeding pair in Liberec zoo. The female had laid a double clutch last December, and in the end of January the eggs were removed for artificial hatching, and substituted by dummy eggs (so that the pair could keep their breeding stimulus). On the 4th of February the first chick hatched in the incubator and seven days later so did the second. Both were successful hand-reared during their first week, and while the older was later adopted by its own parents, the younger was transported to the Richard Faust Breeding Center in Austria to be  adopted by a foster pair.

This pair often manages to produce two chicks, and in these cases the younger chick needs to be adopted by a foster pair, as Bearded Vultures only raise one, with the older one killing the younger one (obligatory caiinism).

Hand raising chicks is often done in the Bearded Vulture EEP during the first few days, but if not given to the adult birds within the first week, young birds often imprint on humans, and are then not able to reproduce with their conspecifics later on.

The adult female arrived at Liberec Zoo in June 1993 from Russia, from the wild. Liberec Zoo joined the bearded vulture EEP in 1997, and in October the following year the VCF provided them with a male, born in 1985 in Moscow zoo. The pair bred for the first time in 2000/2001. The female has so fair laid 27 eggs, of which 16 hatched – 13 young bearded vultures have survived. Eight of these have been released in the different reintroduction projects, while 5 were kept in the EEP network.

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