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First-ever captive breeding of the endangered Canary Islands Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus majorensis

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The Egyptian vulture is a globally endangered species, which has been declining across its large global range, sometimes dramatically. There are a number of unique island populations, usually sedentary, unlike the mainland populations, which are migratory and winter in Africa and south Asia.

One such island population – recognized as a distinct sub-species (Neophron percnopterus majorensis), lives in the Canary Islands, where it is called guirre. The subspecies, formerly widespread in most of the archipelago, is now rare, only surviving in the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, where about 25-30 pairs breed (total population does not exceed 130 individuals). The guirre is one of the most emblematic and important species in the Canary islands, and has been receiving significant conservation attention for the last decade.

This year saw another milestone in the efforts to conserve the species – the wildlife rehabilitation center ofTop of FormTafira (Gran Canaria) managed to successfully breed in captivity this species, after several years of failed attempts. The rehabilitation center there, managed by the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, has a  pair, which cannot be released due to severe injuries.

Following a close protocol developed by Jose Antonio Donazar, and his team at the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC), and constantly supported by Alex Llopis from the VCF, the team at Tafira extracted the fertile egg soon after egg-laying, as in previous years the same female had destroyed the eggs. It was artificially incubated and fed artificially, with the help of an Egyptian vulture puppet, for the first few weeks, before being introduced it back to the male bird, who fed the young guirre until independence.

There are only 6 guires in captivity. In the past pairs had laid eggs, but this is the first time a chick was born and fledged.  This chick – a male, named Tamarán, after the native name for Gran Canaria – was then released into the wild in Fuerteventura, fitted with a satellite tag. It has spent the first months of its life with a group of conspecifics around the feeding point of Tiscamanita.

In the photos below you can see several aspects of this extraordinary adventure – all photos are from the Cabildo de Gran Canaria. Well done to them for this success, and we hope Tamarán will recruit into the wild population and will help this endangered sub-species.

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