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From captivity to the wild: the reintroduction story of Bearded Vulture Pradines

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Gypaète bearded vulture reintroduction pradines
Bearded Vulture Pradines flying in the Grands Causses, France © Camille Robert

The Grands Causses Regional Natural Park in France has a new inhabitant! The LIFE GypConnect project released one more captive-bred Bearded Vulture as part of the reintroduction project, marking the last release of the season in the area.

Get to know Bearded Vulture Pradines 

Gypaète bearded vulture reintroduction pradines
Pradines photographed as a newly hatched chick © Puy du Fou

The young Bearded Vulture BG1122, now baptised ‘Pradines’ by a local school, was the second-to-last Bearded Vulture chick to hatch during the 2020/21 breeding season and arrived quite late on 10 April 2021 at Puy du Fou. Pradines’ parents raised the young one to ensure natural rearing in order to behave like her wild conspecifics and therefore prepare her for life in the wild! Since she was the first chick of the young Bearded Vulture pair, the staff closely watched over her to make sure everything was going smoothly. Eventually, the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA’s EEP, assigned the young vulture to the LIFE GypConnect project for release in the Grands Causses. Around three months after hatching, Pradines grew well and was ready for life in the wild!

Releasing Bearded Vulture Pradines 

On 12 July 2021, when the vulture was 93 days old, the Puy du Fou team transported Pradines to the release site in Grands Causses. Ahead of her release, LPO Grands Causses fitted her with identification rings and bleached a unique set of feathers to recognise her in the field. They also equipped a GPS transmitter on her back to monitor her movements and behaviour remotely. The team then proceeded to released the young vulture using the ‘hacking method’, which is more or less the natural way of fledging, placing Pradines in the same reintroduction site as the previous birds of this year, in the ‘Gorges du Trévezel’ in Aveyron. 

This method involves releasing captive-bred nestlings at artificial nests in suitable habitats, enabling vultures to acclimatise to the natural environment before they fledge. With this technique, the nestlings can associate the place where they are released with the area of hatching so that when they reach breeding age, which is around 8-10 years old, they select these places to breed. For the first few months after the release, an attentive team from LIFE GypConnect also closely monitors the new inhabitants and their daily progress to help ensure their wellbeing. And last Thursday, after much training, Pradines took her flight into freedom and is doing well! 

LIFE GypConnect

Led by the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), the LIFE GypConnect project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and Department of the Drôme. Releasing captive-bred Bearded Vultures into the wild at sites such as the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses,  Parc Naturel Régional des Baronnies Provençales and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors will create a core population that will connect the two populations of the species in the Alps and Pyrenees. To facilitate movements between the new population and the Alpine and Pyrenean ones, the LIFE GypConnect team is creating a network of supplementary feeding stations and tackling threats such as poisoning, and collision and electrocution with the electricity infrastructure.

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