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Bearded Vultures released in the Swiss Alps after a delay due to heavy snowfall 

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On Sunday, 2 June 2024, our team and partners were getting ready for the release event of three young Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) at Melchsee-Frutt in the Swiss Alps. The arrangements for the release event were in full swing but, unfortunately, the weather had other plans. 

A heavy snowfall made the release event impossible due to avalanche risk. Bearded Vultures, after all, live high up in the mountains, which is where we release them to mimic their natural fledging. Finally, after four days of delay, it was possible for “Gaia”, “Paradiso” and “Aurora” to start their life in the wild in the beautiful snowy mountains of Switzerland.  

Bearded Vultures Gaia, Paradiso and Aurora being carried to the release site through snowy landscape © Marco Leisi
Bearded Vultures Gaia, Paradiso and Aurora being carried to the release site © Marco Leisi

Heavy snowfall causing the delay 

The heavy snowfall not only cancelled the release planned for Sunday, but it also destroyed the fencing around the hacking site. The fence had to be reinstalled, which took some time since its crucial to ensure the bird’s safety before their first flight, keeping them (and their food) away from predators.

Of course, it was a big disappointment that the release event couldn’t happen as planned as many had worked so hard for it and many others travelled far to watch it. But the risk of the avalanche was simply too high.  

Finally, on Thursday, 6 June, everything was ready again and it was possible to transport the young vultures from Natur- und Tierpark Goldau to the release site at Melchsee-Frutt. 

The young vulture trio 

To ensure maximum social contact between the vultures and maximize their chances of survival, the protocol is to always release at least two chicks together whose age difference must not exceed one week. The young vultures all hatched within our Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network and come from different countries: Spain, France and Austria.  

Meet Gaia from Spain 

Gaia is a female that hatched on 21 February 2024 in Torreferrussa Wildlife Center in Spain. She has a black ring on the right foot and a green one on the left, and bleached feathers in the middle of the left wing and on the right side of the tail feathers, which will allow our extensive monitoring programme to keep track of her. 

A young Bearded Vulture "Gaia" in her nest
Gaia in her nest (c) Marco Leisi

Meet Paradiso from France  

Paradiso is a male that hatched on 21 February 2024 in Beauval Zoo in France. He is the first Bearded Vulture that has been reintroduced to the wild from Beauval Zoo. Paradiso has a blue ring on the right foot and a red one on the left and only two bleached feathers in the middle of the right wing.  

Paradiso in his nest (c) Marco Leisi

Meet Aurora from Austria 

The youngest of the trio, Aurora, is a female that hatched on 7 March in Richard Faust Zentrum Specialized Breeding Centre in Austria. Her name represents the dawn and symbolizes hope for a good future.  

She can be recognized by the green ring on the right foot and the golden ring on the left. She also has bleached feathers on the outside of her right wing and some tail feathers on the left side have been bleached. 

Young Bearded Vulture Aurora in her nest (c) Marco Leisi
Aurora in her nest (c) Marco Leisi

Ascend to the release site 

The three young vultures were carried from Tannalp to their release site: a rocky cave around 2,200 metres above sea level.   

Shortly after the release, Aurora was already eating the food laid out for her and Gaia and Paradiso were curiously inspecting their new home and performing their first flight exercises. We are happy to see that the three youngsters seem to be getting along well so far.  

The birds will now be closely monitored by the Stiftung Pro Bartgeier team over the coming weeks until they are old enough to travel independently. Until then, the trio can be observed via the Pro Bartgeier Stiftung webcam. 

Releasing Bearded Vultures in Switzerland 

A huge thank you to our partners at Stiftung Pro Bartgeier and everyone involved in the release. We are happy to see that The Bearded Vulture population in Switzerland is growing and getting stronger year by year. In the recent years, we have already released several Bearded Vultures near Melchsee-Frutt: 

Of these, already thirteen have made the leap to independence. Eleven of them have survived so far and have already successfully raised their first offspring. We hope that the first breeding pairs will soon settle in Central Switzerland and look forward to seeing how the trio will settle into their new surroundings. 

Bearded Vulture EEP

The releases in Switzerland were done as a part of EAZA’s European Endangered Species Programme (Bearded Vulture EEP) that is coordinated by us at VCF. The programme consists of a network of zoos, private collections and specialised breeding centres that breed Bearded Vultures in captivity for conservation purposes.  

As coordinators of the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, we make sure that all partners accept, respect and follow the guidelines of the EEP and continually work with our colleagues across Europe to ensure the best breeding results from the birds within the network.  

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