The final day of the European Vulture Conference 2023 concluded with insightful scientific sessions. A keynote speech highlighted the disproportionate impact of vulture poisoning on African and migratory European populations. Sessions focused on conservation challenges for Rüppell’s Vultures, Europe’s 5th vulture species, as well as the Bearded Vulture, Europe’s rarest vulture. Talks addressed threats like collisions and electrocution, presenting case studies and solutions. The day ended with a social dinner, followed by participants heading out for field trips the next day to observe vultures and other emblematic bird species in Extremadura. This article shares insights from the scientific sessions of day three. Subsequent articles will follow in the next days covering insights from posters and remarks from the closing session that offered main conclusions from the conference.
Keynote Speech: Drivers of vulture poisoning are not created equal: disproportionate effects and their likely impacts on African and migratory European populations
This keynote speech highlighted the disproportionate impact of vulture poisoning on African and migratory European populations, emphasizing the critical need for effective conservation strategies. With Africa hosting 30% of the world’s raptor species, it also faces severe threats, with 9 or 11 vulture species on the IUCN Red List. A comprehensive study spanning 20-40 years revealed an alarming 88% decline in 42 savanna raptor species, attributing poisoning as the primary threat to vultures. The motivations for poisoning were outlined, with belief-based use leading (trend is increasing), followed by human-wildlife conflict, sentinel, and wildlife trade, each presenting varying trends and median mortalities per incident. Urgent solutions include raising awareness, promoting alternatives, and developing livelihoods, especially considering the current hierarchy in African conservation funding, where charismatic species receive more attention and funding than vulture projects.
Conservation focus: Rüppell’s Vulture along the Western Flyway
Jose Rafael Garrido López
Conservation efforts for the Critically Endangered Rüppell’s Vulture along the Western Flyway are crucial. Threats during wintering in North Africa and return to Sahel include power lines, wind farms, human persecution, and poisoning. To prevent extinction, promoting species colonization in Andalusia, Morocco, and Algeria for safe breeding areas is vital. Over the last 4 years, GPS-transmitter marked vultures reveal key settlement areas, emphasizing northern and central Morocco, a desert area in northern Mauritania, and significant locations in the Sahel. Southern and western Spain also play a crucial role for birds crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Conservation efforts should prioritize these areas.
SAVE consortium: Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction
The SAVE consortium addresses the rapid decline of South Asian Gyps vulture populations since the 1990s. Recognizing the urgent need for coordinated action, NGOs, with some government support, initiated steps to ban veterinary diclofenac and establish breeding centres. To streamline conservation efforts, the SAVE consortium was launched in 2011, fostering collaboration among 14 partners with national and international expertise. The presentation highlights SAVE’s achievements, challenges, structures, the SAVE Blueprint, and outlines future progress.
The Vulture Safe Zone Initiative – creating safe havens for endangered vultures; successes and lessons learnt in Zambia
The SAVE consortium addresses the rapid decline of South Asian Gyps vulture populations since the 1990s. Recognizing the urgent need for coordinated action, NGOs, with some government support, initiated steps to ban veterinary diclofenac and establish breeding centers. To streamline conservation efforts, the SAVE consortium was launched in 2011, fostering collaboration among 14 partners with national and international expertise. The presentation highlights SAVE’s achievements, challenges, structures, the SAVE Blueprint, and outlines future progress.
Impact of climate change on the habitat suitability of three critically endangered vultures in northern India
The study assesses the impact of climate change on the habitat suitability of three critically endangered vultures in northern India: Indian, Red-headed, and White-rumped vultures. Using MaxEnt SDM and multiple GCMs, the study predicts changes in future habitats, highlighting similarities in Red-headed and White-rumped vulture habitats compared to Indian vultures. Current suitable areas fluctuated, emphasizing the need for vulture-centric landscape planning and habitat improvement strategies. The study suggests maintaining suitable areas as vulture safe zones and enhancing nesting and roosting sites through agroforestry practices.
Accelerometer-based remote classification of Griffon Vulture behaviour as a conservation tool
The study introduces an accelerometer-based tool for remote classification of Griffon Vulture behaviour, crucial for conservation efforts. Using GPS/GSM transmitters and tri-axial accelerometers, the Random Forest algorithm accurately classified six behavioural classes with 96% accuracy. Validation showed 72-85% precision in identifying eating behaviour. The tool mapped non-SFS feeding events, aiding sanitation and conservation, and enhances the real-time alert system for suspicious landing sites. This approach proves effective for vulture conservation, offering insights for targeted strategies and improved real-time response capabilities.
Ageing in nature: lifelong changes in the movement and social behaviour of Griffon Vultures
The study on Griffon Vultures reveals non-monotonic changes in movement with age. GPS-tracking 319 vultures aged 0.5 to 20 years old unveils three life stages: young age (higher movement probability), adulthood (stabilized movement), and old age (pronounced decline in movement). These age-dependent changes in behaviour impact social interactions, potentially influencing individual fitness, population dynamics, and species conservation.
Vulture movements and health in a human dominated landscape in South Pacific Costa Rica
The study focuses on King Vultures, essential in the neotropical scavenger network but understudied and declining. Conducted in the Osa Peninsula, South Pacific Costa Rica, it analyzes movement, behaviour, health, and threats. Tagging 44 vultures reveals home ranges, daily movements, flight heights, and health indicators, offering crucial insights for effective conservation in a human-dominated landscape.
Long-distance post-release movements challenge the metapopulation restoration of Bearded Vultures
The study on Bearded Vultures investigates post-release movements and foraging behaviours of translocated and wild-born individuals, focusing on differences between reintroduced and native populations. Monitoring 43 juveniles reveals that birds from the most distant release site (Causses) exhibit greater exploration distances, smaller home ranges, and a stronger preference for supplementary feeding stations, emphasizing the need for effective conservation measures in translocation programmes.
Identifying the main drivers of young Bearded Vulture movements in three European subpopulations
The study on Bearded Vultures examines movement drivers in three European subpopulations using long-term GPS data from 137 individuals. Findings reveal age- and region-dependent movement strategies, highlighting potential effects of captive breeding on movements. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for targeted conservation actions and restoring Bearded Vulture populations across Europe.
Back to the Alps: Trends in population size and drivers of breeding success in a reintroduced Bearded Vulture population
The study on reintroduced Bearded Vultures in the Alps, spanning 26 years, reveals a positive trend in population size and breeding success. Breeding pairs increased from 1 in 1995 to 65 in 2021, with yearly fledged vultures rising from 0 to 42. Breeding success was influenced by nest height, spring rainfall, laying date, neighbor density, and protected areas. Higher vulnerability in the Eastern Alps and positive trends emphasize the effectiveness of protected areas for reintroduced populations.
The natal dispersal of Canarian Egyptian Vulture: extrinsic and intrinsic drivers.
Cecilia Gimeno Castellano
The study on Canarian Egyptian Vulture natal dispersal, spanning from 1998, identifies 210 cases of fledglings recruiting into the breeding population. Preliminary findings reveal sex-based differences, with males recruiting closer and later than females. This research contributes to understanding dispersal processes on islands, informing conservation actions for this endemic subspecies.
High annual survival rates and breeding success aid continued recovery of the Critically Endangered White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis population in Nepal.
The Critically Endangered White-rumped Vulture population in Nepal continues its recovery, with high annual survival rates and breeding success. The cessation of diclofenac use, combined with Vulture Safe Zone efforts, halted the decline. The study uses road transect surveys, GPS-tagged vulture monitoring, and a matrix model to estimate the population’s intrinsic rate of increase, emphasizing the success of conservation measures.
Testing of methods to evaluate population numbers of the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) in Nepal
Krishna Prasad Bhusal
Despite being globally endangered, the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) population in Nepal appears stable, primarily distributed in central and western regions. The study conducted extensive counts at various sites and identified potential nesting habitat using ecological niche modeling. Recommendations include widespread, long-term monitoring and tagging to estimate population numbers and understand threats in South Asia.
Key factors behind the dynamic stability of the Egyptian Vulture breeding pairs census in continental Spain
The Egyptian Vulture’s breeding pairs in continental Spain exhibit dynamic stability influenced by intrinsic and external factors. Temporal and spatial analyses revealed the importance of regional-scale abundance of cattle and Griffon Vultures, while wind farms negatively impacted local breeding pairs. Conservation programmes should focus on regional-scale food resource availability and address local-level impacts of wind farms.
Egyptian Vulture conservation at a flyway scale: challenges and opportunities
The “Egyptian Vulture New LIFE” project, spanning 14 countries, successfully stabilized the Balkan population, showing signs of recovery after 30 years. Conservation efforts focused on mitigating major threats, decreasing poisoning rates, and reducing mortality from energy infrastructure and persecution. Stakeholder engagement, public awareness, and international collaboration contributed to the project’s remarkable achievements, including population reinforcement and environmental education reaching over 950,000 people.
Mid-term implementation review of the Flyway Action Plan for the conservation of the Balkan and Central Asian populations of the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
The mid-term review of the Flyway Action Plan for the Egyptian Vulture in the Balkans and Central Asia highlighted substantial progress in improving detection, legislation, and enforcement against poisoning, as well as retrofitting and replacing hazardous energy infrastructure. Countries involved in the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project showed higher implementation scores, emphasizing the effectiveness of large-scale initiatives. Recommendations include ongoing collaboration, sharing best practices, and comprehensive stakeholder engagement to address remaining challenges and halt population declines.
Where do Egyptian Vultures from Central Asia spend the winter?
The study on Egyptian Vultures in Central Asia revealed migration patterns of tagged individuals, with most following the Central Asian Flyway to winter in India and Pakistan. One bird spent consecutive winters in Yemen. The migration distance averaged 2663 km, taking around 11 days. The Hindu Kush Mountains presented a significant obstacle, and the study also identified congregation sites in Uzbekistan and wintering sites in Rajasthan. Minimum counts were 350 birds in southern Uzbekistan and 1000 wintering individuals in Bikaner, India. High survival rates were observed, with only one unexplained mortality in Yemen and two birds temporarily trapped in Pakistan.
Reinforcement programme for Egyptian Vultures leads to successful supplementation of the breeding population in the Balkans
The reinforcement programmeme for Egyptian Vultures in the Balkans aimed to supplement the declining population through captive-bred releases. An integrated population model indicated that a 4% increase in wild individuals’ survival, combined with releasing 9 birds annually for 20 years, could stabilize the population. Various release methods were tested, with delayed release showing the highest survival (69%), fostering at 50%, and hacking at 22%. In 2022 and 2023, individuals formed pairs with wild partners, indicating success in supplementing the breeding population.
Recent stabilization of the Egyptian Vulture population in the Balkans
In the Balkans, the Egyptian Vulture population, severely declining for decades, stabilized between 2017 and 2022 due to an international conservation effort. Breeding performance improved, with an average productivity of 0.91 chicks per occupied territory. Adult territorial bird survival increased by 1%, and juvenile bird monthly survival increased by 8%. The population growth rate rose by 6.9%, reaching stability with 56 occupied territories in 2022. This success is attributed to conservation measures, including reduced poisoning and electrocution, reinforcement programmes, and increased survival. Recommendations include maintaining and expanding these efforts and developing Species Action Plans for specific regions.
LIFE Egyptian Vulture project – main results of actions carried out in Italy
From 2018 to 2022, the LIFE Egyptian Vulture (EV) project in Italy aimed to save the endangered EV population, focusing on the small continental population of 3-4 nesting pairs. Actions included anti-poaching surveillance, insulation of electric line poles, activation of feeding stations, and releasing 25 captive-born EVs equipped with GPS-GSM devices through hacking and delayed release. Monitoring revealed high breeding success (1.7), with 14 breeding attempts and 24 fledged juveniles. However, urgent measures are required to reduce human-induced mortality and support population recovery.
Sala García Matos
Factors affecting collision risk in wide-ranging species: implications for large-scale wind energy development
The study assessed collision risk in Griffon Vultures at wind farms in peninsular Spain using GPS-tracking data from 127 adults and 51 juveniles. Vulnerability and exposure were highest in open habitats with predictable carrion availability. High collision risk areas covered 40% of Spain’s surface, with a positive correlation between casualties and collision risk. These findings emphasize the need to harmonize wind energy development and wildlife conservation.
Fast wind energy development in Sardinia and its overlap with movements of Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus)
The study in Sardinia reveals rapid wind energy growth, raising concerns about its impact on Griffon Vultures. GPS-tagged vultures showed concentrated movements in north-western Sardinia, with significant flyways between areas. While one recorded collision occurred, the lack of systematic monitoring suggests underreporting. New wind farm projects since 2019 pose threats, highlighting the need for data transparency and mitigation measures to safeguard vultures.
Movement ecology to inform environmental planning of renewable energies: an example with Griffon Vultures and wind farms.
The study examines Griffon Vulture movements and wind farm development in NW Spain, emphasizing the need for informed environmental planning in renewable energy projects. Tracking 15 GPS-equipped vultures, the study finds higher spatial use around operational and planned wind farms at low altitudes. Recommendations include considering vertical dimensions in space use modelling and incorporating detailed information into planning tools for biodiversity conservation.
Visual perception of wind turbines by birds: focus on vultures and raptors.
Bird collisions with wind turbines, particularly affecting vultures, stem from factors like low sensitivity to achromatic contrasts, difficulty perceiving the rotative movement of blades, and the birds’ willingness to risk crossing blade-swept areas. Current automatic detection systems slow blades rather than stopping them, suggesting the need for faster blade stops and improved visibility, potentially achieved by painting blades black and white.
Population Viability Analysis for the Cinereous Vulture in Greece: Extinction Risk assessment under the future impact of windfarms
The study assesses the extinction risk of Cinereous Vultures in Greece due to future wind farm development. Using an Integrated Population Model, it reveals that additional wind turbines increase extinction risk from 3.2% (current situation) to 16.4% (best case) and up to 98% (worst case) within four years, emphasizing the need for population-level impact assessments and conservation measures.
When green energy jeopardizes the conservation of threatened species: Cumulative effects of industrial wind farm development on the Cinereous and Griffon Vulture in Thrace, NE Greece
The study in NE Greece exposes the ecological threat posed by wind farm development to Cinereous and Griffon Vultures. With 767 MW installed and 3881 MW planned, collision models predict annual mortality of 8.15 Cinereous and 15 Griffon Vultures, even with a 98% avoidance rate. Severe displacement effects on Cinereous Vultures indicate an 85-89% decline in area use around operating wind farms, jeopardizing conservation efforts. The study emphasizes the urgent need to curtail and monitor further wind farm development in critical vulture habitats.
A review of camera detection systems in Spain to minimize wind energy impacts on vultures and other raptors
The review of camera detection systems in Spanish wind farms reveals challenges. Over 150 reports analyzed between 2020-2022 show a need for improvement in bird detection and species identification. Stereoscopic cameras are not universally used, contributing to high false positives (50-80%) affecting turbine operations and energy production. Scientific evidence for the dissuasion module’s effectiveness is lacking, requiring more research. Recommendations include considering critical periods for species, addressing turbine fatigue, and informed decision-making in permitting processes. The findings underscore the need for enhanced technologies and practices in wind energy development, particularly vital in emerging regions like Africa.
Impact to vultures of wind energy in Ethiopia, an emerging threat
In Ethiopia’s nascent wind energy sector, the impact on vultures remains unknown. A study at Adama II wind farm revealed carcasses of two White-backed and one Rüppell’s vulture, bones of two vultures, and one Yellow-billed Kite. Vulture activity around turbines was observed. Urgent measures, including a fatality search protocol and expert supervision, are needed to safeguard vultures in this African stronghold for conservation.
DTBird tool for vulture protection and collision control at wind farms
DTBird, an automatic system, enhances vulture protection and collision control at wind farms. With modules for continuous bird detection, collision monitoring, warning sounds, and turbine stopping signals, it adapts to evolving turbine sizes. Large turbines pose challenges, requiring longer stop times, affecting energy production, and reducing sound deterrence effectiveness due to vultures’ poor hearing. Customizable protocols balance data transparency, energy production, and vulture conservation.
LIFE GYP’ACT – Strengthening the reintroduction programme to restore the Gypaetus barbatus metapopulation between the Alps and the Pyrenees
The LIFE GYP’ACT project focuses on restoring the Bearded Vulture population from the Pyrenees to the Alps. With up to 60 releases, it addresses threats such as electrocution and collisions by securing power lines, reduces shootings by 50%, tackles poisoning through lead-free munitions, and mitigates human disturbances. The project aims for a self-sustaining Bearded Vulture population by the project’s end.
Life programme GYPRESCUE – Rescue of the Bearded Vulture population of Corsica
The LIFE programmeme GYPRESCUE addresses the Bearded Vulture population decline in Corsica. With only 4 pairs left in 2023, the project aims to prevent extinction by addressing threats like low genetic variability, reduced reproduction due to food scarcity, and mortality risks from lead poisoning and infrastructure collisions. Actions include population reinforcement and awareness initiatives.
Reintroduction of Bearded Vulture in the Maestrazgo (E Spain). Are we achieving the expected results?
The Bearded Vulture reintroduction project in the Maestrazgo, Spain, initiated in 2014, has seen positive outcomes. With 11 chicks released by 2022 and a 72.7% survival rate, the birds show homing behaviour and have established connections to the Pyrenees, Cantabrian mountains, and North Iberian range. Successful reproduction remains a future goal.
Bearded Vulture Reintroduction Project in Andalusia: Results and population estimates through the use of camera traps located on cliffs
Enrique Avila Lopez
The Bearded Vulture reintroduction project in Andalusia reports findings using high-altitude camera traps. The study addresses the status and evolution of the Andalusian population, achieving goals and setting new ones. It highlights predation by foxes, a poisoning incident, and bird flu cases in 2022.
An overview on Bearded Vulture conservation in Europe
The restoration of Bearded Vultures in Europe through conservation projects utilizing captive breeding has been overall positive. Positive population trends over the years in wild-hatched Bearded Vultures in the Alps and Andalusia are noted, with nearly 60 fledglings in the Alps this year. Successes, challenges, and future considerations are examined, emphasizing the multidisciplinary nature of conservation. Future opportunities and challenges include reintroduction in the Balkans, increasing collaboration in North Africa, risks from increasing wind farms and poison targeting wolves, low genetic diversity, and assessing and addressing climate change and diseases impacting Bearded Vultures and wild ungulate populations. Continued efforts are crucial for sustained success.
MAVA and vultures – a personal view on funding vulture conservation and the overall result
Luis T Costa
The MAVA Foundation, a philanthropic force for 28 years, played a crucial role in vulture conservation. Supporting the Vulture Conservation Foundation, it exemplified a unique approach by not just granting funds but also building capacity and promoting good governance. This strategy yielded success, with the VCF becoming a reference in European vulture conservation. Nature Returns, an entity continuing Luc Hoffmann’s legacy, now focuses on incubating businesses to aid Protected Area management, presenting a potential solution for vulture conservation sites.
From the first observations to the recent establishment: the paradox of a sub-Saharan species colonizing the western Palearctic
Climate change is driving the colonization of the western Palearctic by sub-Saharan species like Rüppell’s Vulture. Griffon Vulture colonies in the Iberian Peninsula are now hosting individuals of the African species. Despite previous unsuccessful breeding attempts, 2023 marks the first confirmed case of Rüppell’s Vulture breeding in Europe, highlighting the paradox of a species expanding its range while facing a rapid decline, leading to a re-evaluation as IUCN Critically Endangered. Conservation implications are discussed.
Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli): a new vulture species for Europe?
The Rüppell’s Vulture, historically African, is now observed in Europe, particularly in southern Spain, leading Andalusia to declare it autochthonous. The study analyzes distribution changes, drivers, and population trends. Griffon Vultures migrating through the Strait of Gibraltar and Sahel precipitation anomalies predict Rüppell’s Vulture observations, explaining 68.7% of the variance. Climate change-induced floods in the Sahel and the increasing proportion of Griffon Vultures might be facilitating Rüppell’s Vulture colonization in Europe, creating a unique scenario where a globally threatened species establishes a new population outside its original range.
First confirmed data of Rüppell´s Vulture breeding in Senegal: phenology and population estimation
Rüppell’s Vulture (RV), a “Critically Endangered” species, is least understood in Africa. Fieldwork in northern Senegal, January 2022-April-May 2023, confirmed RV breeding, identifying nine occupied nests. January nests had eggs or chicks, while April-May nests had grown chicks. A just-fledged juvenile was observed on May 4, 2023. Phenology and population estimates suggest a declining RV population in West Africa. Further research is crucial for comprehensive understanding and conservation efforts.
Breeding Rüppell’s vultures in European zoos
Diergaarde Blijdorp coordinates the European zoo programme for Rüppell’s vultures, with 133 birds in 27 institutions. Practices like double clutching, artificial incubation, and (foster)parent rearing are employed to enhance breeding success. The 2023 season saw 15 chicks hatched, marking a significant increase. Genetic research and in-situ collaboration contribute to comprehensive conservation efforts.
Sala García Matos
Global perspective on insulation and protection strategy to reduce risk of electrocution on distribution power line infrastructure
The presentation provided a global perspective on reducing raptor mortality on LV/MV infrastructure, emphasizing electrocution prevention. It stressed the significance of collaboration between utilities and NGOs, discussing best practices for grid design and retrofitting. A Middle East case study demonstrated an 85% reduction in avian electrocution on high-risk lines, showcasing successful alignment and collaboration between power utilities, wildlife organizations, and equipment manufacturers for wildlife and asset protection, outage and fire prevention, and easy, safe installations.
RGI’s Bird Portal – Working with grid operators and civil society for bird protection around the grid
The RGI’s Bird Portal, a collaboration between European NGOs and transmission system operators, focuses on bird protection around electricity grids and wind turbines in support of decarbonization. Through advocacy, awareness campaigns, and collaborative projects like the German ‘Bird Portal,’ RGI addresses vulture mortality risks from electrocution and collision, striving for safer spaces for vultures in Europe and beyond.
LIFE SafeLines4Birds. Reducing bird mortality caused by power lines
LIFE SafeLines4Birds, a 6-year project co-financed by the LIFE Programmeme, addresses bird mortality around power lines in France, Belgium, and Portugal, focusing on 13 bird species, including Bearded Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, and Egyptian Vulture. The project aims to reduce collision, electrocution, and disturbance through various measures, such as installing anti-collision diverters, testing new devices like the Avian Collision System Avoidance, retrofitting and insulating power poles, and adapting grid maintenance to prevent disturbance during breeding season. The goal is to significantly reduce collision and electrocution risks for vulture species.
Future prospects to reduce negative impacts of power lines
The extensive power line network in Spain, spanning approximately one million kilometres, poses significant threats to biodiversity due to bird collisions and electrocutions, resulting in an estimated 33,000 bird fatalities annually. Despite existing regulations and substantial investments, vulture conservation remains compromised. The study advocates for innovative approaches, improved sectoral regulations, and sustained economic investments to address the persistent negative impacts on biodiversity.
Photos by © Hansruedi Weyrich