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First captive-bred Egyptian Vulture successfully rears two chicks in the wild

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First captive-bred Egyptian Vulture successfully rears two chicks in the wild
Sara’s two children, photographed from a distance of 1.5 km so as not to cause disturbance

Not only did Sara form a pair in the wild, the first captive-bred Egyptian Vulture to do so in Europe, but she also successfully hatched chicks! 

Sara’s incredible story bred in captivity for conservation purposes

 In 2015, the Egyptian Vulture Sara hatched at CERM Centro Rapaci Minacciati Association in Italy. She became a part of the restocking efforts to boost the population of the species in Italy, which is under threat. In August, a few months after hatching, CERM and LIPU released the young vulture into the wild with the support of the Ministry of Environment. Ahead of Sara’s release in Puglia, she was fitted with a GPS transmitter provided by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). Since 2017, the LIFE Egyptian Vulture Project strengthened the reinforcement efforts by implementing conservation actions in favour of the Egyptian Vulture in the region and beyond.

Thanks to the GPS transmitter equipped on Sara’s back, we have been able to follow her movements for the first seven years of her life. 

Less than ten days after her release into the wild, Sara had moved away from the site and reached Niger after travelling 3,980 km for 28 days. After staying for four years in sub-Saharan Africa, spending the summers in the Atlas Mountains (northern Algeria), Sara has returned every year to southern Italy to spend the spring and summer and then return to winter in Niger. 

Egyptian Vulture Sara finds a partner in the wild

This year, we have been eagerly awaiting Sara’s arrival, hoping she would breed in the wild. Her behaviour looked promising since she started her migration northwards two months earlier than in previous years.

In fact, Sara left Niger on 26 February 2022 and, after a journey of around 2,800 km, arrived in Sicily on 22 March. The next day she stopped in the centre of the island, in an area usually frequented by the species. As Sara seemed to want to stay close to a rocky cliff, CERM member Mimmo Bevacqua and his friend Andrea Cairone, who had been alerted and directed through the GPS data, investigated the situation.

Keeping a safe distance, Andrea clearly observed and recognized Sara, who sported a plumage that was almost completely coloured orange. That’s not all – Sara was in the company of a male! The two Egyptian Vultures exhibited unmistakable breeding behaviour near a rocky cliff, which suggests that the formation of the new pair had already taken place in Africa. On 2 April, Sara left and headed for the areas of Basilicata that she had frequented regularly in recent years. Most likely, the ‘original owners’ of the Sicilian nesting area, who appeared after a few days, chased away the new ‘intruding’ pair.

Sara and her partner welcome two chicks

 The story continued in Basilicata. There, a field team begun monitoring the nest, keeping a safe distance, throughout the reproductive period. They observed the pair mating frequently, and in the next months that followed, they confirmed an exciting development. By the end of August, the team could clearly observe that Sara had successfully hatched and reared two chicks, who were almost ready to fledge the nest at the time. The two young Egyptian Vultures were almost ready to fly with perfect plumage. They likely began their long and dangerous migration journey to Sub-Saharan Africa in the days that followed. The project did not equip them with a GPS transmitter to avoid any disturbance to the wild pair, given the rarity of the species in Italy.

This development marks a milestone. For the first time in 19 years, sufficient evidence indicates a captive-bred Egyptian Vulture from CERM formed a breeding pair and successfully bred in the wild. This development shows that captive-breeding and release programmes can be effective in the long term to support the conservation of Egyptian Vultures. 

We rejoice in this news and cheer for Sara to keep rearing chicks in the future! 

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