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Bearded Vulture “Veleta” released in Sierra Nevada National Park, Spain 

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Juvenile female Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) “Veleta” from Austria was released in Sierra Nevada, Spain on 25 June 2024. 

Team member holding Bearded Vulture “Veleta” in Sierra Nevada National Park before the release
Veleta ready to be released in the wild © Junta de Andalucía

New release site for Bearded Vultures 

Sierra Nevada National Park was recently selected as a location for the reintroduction of Bearded Vultures in Andalusia due to its vast size and abundant food supply. This region, the second largest mountain massif in the autonomous community, is already frequently visited by the Bearded Vultures released in Cazorla and Castril. The first releases already took place on 10 June with “Dilar” aj Sulayr” and now “Veleta” has joined the crew. 

Sierra Nevada landscape Aurelie1 from GettyGetty images-Canva
Sierra Nevada landscape/ illustrative © Aurelie1/ GettyGetty images-Canva

Veleta starting her new life in the wild 

Veleta, a spirited young female, comes from the Richard Faust Breeding Center in Haringsee, Austria which is part of Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network (Bearded Vulture EEP), coordinated by us at the VCF on behalf of EAZA’s European Endangered Species Programme. 

She was transferred to Spain at the end of June, where she embarked on a new chapter of her life in the majestic Sierra Nevada National Park at 93 of age. 

Before her release, the team equipped Veleta with GPS transmitters and identification rings. These devices allow researchers to closely follow her movements and ensure her well-being as she adjusted to her new surroundings. Additionally, the area around her artificial nest was outfitted with camera traps, ready to capture her first steps and flights in the wild. 

Over the following months, the GPS data will reveal Veleta’s exploration of her new habitat. The camera traps will record her interactions with the environment, from foraging for food to encountering other wildlife. 

The hacking method  

Typically, Bearded Vultures raised in captivity are placed in artificial nests in the wild at around 90 days (about 3 months) old, using a technique called “the hacking method.”  

Following this method, the monitoring team from Junta de Andalucia feeds the young bird without direct interaction, which mimics the natural behavior of their parents, who provide food until the chicks can fly. This allows young birds to safely interact with their surroundings, increasing their chances of survival and helping them recognize the site as a safe breeding ground.  

Bearded Vultures often return to their hatching area to breed when they reach maturity at 8-10 years old. By placing an artificial nest in a carefully chosen part of Sierra Nevada National Park, the chances of future reproduction in the area are significantly enhanced. 

Reintroducing Bearded Vultures in Andalusia 

In 1986, the majestic Bearded Vulture disappeared from Andalusia. Human persecution, poisoning, and disturbances at nesting sites had driven the species to local extinction. But a decade later, hope began to take flight again. 

In 1996, the Bearded Vulture reintroduction project in Andalusia was launched, spearheaded by the Junta de Andalucía, the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), and the former Fundación Gypaetus. A cornerstone of this effort was the establishment of the Bearded Vulture Captive-Breeding Centre of Guadalentín, which has since become one of Europe’s premier facilities for breeding these rare birds.  

A decade of relentless effort culminated in the release of the first Bearded Vulture into Andalusia’s skies in 2006. Today, Andalusia has already 65 Bearded Vultures thriving in the wild. 

Now, young Veleta joins this growing population. As Veleta takes her first flights in the Sierra Nevada, she symbolizes the dedication of countless professionals and volunteers who have tirelessly worked to restore the Bearded Vulture to Andalusia. This project not only revives a single species but also strengthens local ecosystems and supports the conservation of other species sharing their habitat. 

We wish Veleta the best start in her new life in Spain! 

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