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Genetic analysis reveals the origin of a wandering Bearded Vulture that was rescued, rehabilitated and released in France

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A young wandering Bearded Vulture left his mountainous home and was exploring unusual corners of France. He needed some help. So he was rescued, rehabilitated at Hegalaldia (64) and released. With the help of genetic analysis, the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) detected the origin of this young individual, who has a fascinating background!


The Bearded Vulture rescued by Marc Grellier in Sorigny © Jules Catala

A citizen of Sorigny in Indre-et-Loire, France, discovered a Bearded Vulture that was in trouble and alerted the authorities. This individual that was far away from his natural habitat behaved erratically, and it seemed that he ended up getting lost in the Indre-et-Loire during his search for food. As he found himself in an unsuitable habitat for the species without the right thermals and adequate food resources, he got exhausted, but thankfully, help was on the way! 

Staff from the French Agency for Biodiversity (OFB) recovered the bird in the morning of 15 May and organized its repatriation to the “Sauve qui Plume” care centre in Chanceaux-sur-Choisille. After consultation with the Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) and the Poitevin wildlife care centre, OFB transferred the Bearded Vulture to the association Hegalaldia (a wildlife hospital in the French Basque country) for rehabilitation.


On his arrival, the team at the centre diagnosed that the bird suffered from a state of severe weakness and hypothermia. X-rays further revealed more concerning news — it seems that the bird ingested foreign material including pieces of wire that could cause a perforation or intestinal obstruction. Fortunately, the bird eventually regurgitated these harmful materials in the following days, avoiding the worst. To make sure that there was no presence of lead in the bird’s body, VetAgro Sup performed a blood test as lead exposure can cause poisoning, with chronic or even lethal consequences. 

Although it is normal for young Bearded Vulture to travel vast distances and explore new areas, leaving their mountain ranges always includes some danger. The mystery still remained on where did this bird come from — the Alps or the Pyrenees?

As this bird did not have any ring, tag or markings, the only way to tell its origin was through genetic analysis with a blood sample carried out by Franziska Lörcher from the Stiftung Pro Bartgeier and the VCF. Not only did the genetic analysis reveal that the bird came from the Alps, but it also identified his entire family background. It was Pierro, a male that hatched in the wild in a nest at the Bargy Massif in Haute-Savoie in 2019 and whose father is the first wild-hatched bird from the reintroduction project in the Alps that started over 30 years ago by the VCF and its local partners and successfully restored the species in the region! 


After more than a month in rehabilitation at Hegalaldia, Pierro made a full recovery, regaining his strength and muscle mass. It was time for him to return to the wild! All the partners agreed to release Pierro back into the wild in the Alps, and the Vercors Regional Nature Park in the western fringes of the Alps was selected. The team there just released two young captive-bred birds and food is available in several places. As the bird is probably still in dispersal mode, this release site could prevent him from wandering to an unfavourable habitat again since it is close to his birthplace.

After the agreement from the DREAL Nouvelle-Aquitaine and all the partners, Hegaladia transported Pierro in the night of 7 July. Ahead of his release, Conservatoire d’Espaces Naturels de Haute-Savoie ringed and marked the vulture with a GPS tag provided by the VCF. Finally, on 8 July, young Pierro was able to take off again and live his life in the wild. Thanks to the GPS tag, you can follow his travels through this public link.

Let’s hope that Pierro will stay in suitable habitat, in the mountains, where he finds food and good flying conditions, and will not suffer similar unfortunate situations. The rescue of Pierro is a great success that would not have been possible without the collaboration of multiple partners committed to the protection of wildlife — together, we can save vultures!

Update 12/08/2020

Contrary to our expectation, Pierro did not remain in the Alps. Shortly after the release in Vercors, he started moving south, then crossed the Rhone Valley and headed north again. Since mid-July, he roams the area of Parc Naturel régional des Volcans d’Auvergne, which is not the typical area where we expect Bearded Vultures, but so far he seems to be able to find food and for now, remains there.

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French Press Release

Communiqué de presse – Relâcher de Pie

Adobe Acrobat Document 546.6 KB

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