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Bearded vulture reintroduction projects 2017 – stories from the field II: Cleo broke her wing just before release but is still flying free above Andalusia

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A total of 18 young bearded vultures was released this Spring-Summer in our four reintroduction-restocking projects: 6 in Andalusia, two in Corsica, four in Grands Causses/Massif Central, and 6 in the Alps/Pre-Alps.

Releasing bearded vultures in the field is a major operation – birds are put usually in pairs on a hacking platform several weeks before they can fledge, and fed at night or though some tubes from the top of the cliff to avoid human contact and imprinting.

After fledgling, the amount of food deposited is decreased progressively to encourage them to forage for food on their own.

Throughout this operation, a team of staff and volunteers watches over the birds 24/7, usually from a cabin or hide located 1km or more from the hacking platform, to prevent any problems.

In this series, we will bring you some stories about some of the individuals released this year. One of them is Cleo, the female bearded vulture that broke its wing just before release but is now flying free above Andalusia.

Cleo hatched in the Berlin zoo, and after months of being taken care of by its parents in Germany it was driven to Andalusia for the successful reintroduction project there – this year two pairs have successfully bred in the wild!  There it was put in a cage in the bearded vulture specialized breeding centre in Guadalentin (where many captive bearded vultures are housed), waiting for its release day. However, a few days before the planned release it fell from a perch and broke the cubit of its right wing – this is the first time it happens to a young bird in our care and was a freak accident.

Cleo was then transferred to the wildlife rehabilitation center in Granada managed by the Junta de Andalucia (CRAS Granada), but since the fracture was straightforward and the bones were aligned, they decided not to operate and to only immobilize the wing. After 8 days, a new x ray revealed that the healing had started and all was ok, so Cleo was then transferred again to Guadalentin. On the 5th July, a new x-ray revealed that the fracture had mostly healed, so the decision to release the bird was taken –  Cleo was then transferred to a specially built (more protected) hacking cage in Cazorla, purposely built (see photo).

The bird stayed there until the staff confirmed that she could move adequately the wing and beat it vigorously. Finally, on the 7th august the door of the hacking platform was opened and Cleo was set free – see below a video of her flying above the Andalusia mountains, totally recovered.

Cleo was named after a dog from an anti-poisoning team from the junta de Andalucía that died recently.

The VCF and the Zoo of Berlin would like to thank the veterinarians from the wildlife rehabilitation centre in Granada, the staff from Guadalentín and the environmental wardens from Andalucía who have built the special cage and took extraordinary care of Cleo – only their efforts enabled this bird to join the dozen others and help recover the bearded vulture population in Andalusia

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