The Griffon Vulture in Sardinia has undoubtedly made a remarkable recovery thanks to international collaboration, targeted conservation actions and effective engagement with relevant stakeholders. The new LIFE Safe for Vultures project continues conserving the species with the objective to return the Griffon Vulture to the entire island. The project’s first Newsletter is now published and includes contributions by each partner, sharing the different actions that will help achieve the objectives of LIFE Safe for Vultures. We at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) are discussing the role of restocking efforts in reinforcing vulture populations across Europe and in Sardinia.
Returning vultures from the brink of extinction
Vultures have suffered significant pressures in Europe over the last decades that led to the decline and even extinction of populations in several regions. As these birds prove essential for functioning mountainous ecosystems, many initiatives have been implementing targeted conservation actions to restore vulture populations, such as tackling threats and reintroducing or restocking efforts. Restocking vulture populations involves several techniques, including releasing captive-bred young birds or translocating wild-hatched birds from a more abundant population in one region to a smaller population in another. The VCF has been working with local partners in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland for over 30 years, both leading and supporting reintroduction and restocking initiatives to restore vulture populations across Europe.
Need for Griffon Vulture restocking actions in Sardinia
In Sardinia, the local Griffon Vulture population also suffered dramatic declines, numbering only 30 territorial pairs and 130 individuals in 2013. To secure and boost the last autochthonous breeding population of the species in Italy, the predecessor of LIFE Safe for Vultures, LIFE Under Griffon Wings, launched in 2015. An important project objective was to enhance the population viability by carrying out an extensive restocking programme to increase the small Griffon Vulture population in Sardinia. For this objective, the VCF secured birds for release and shaped strategies relating to restocking efforts, utilising the expertise and partnerships built from years of experience.
Wild vultures coming from Spain the best option for restocking
Spain is the perfect country to support vulture restocking actions. Thanks to conservation efforts, Griffon Vultures have significantly recovered in numbers in Spain with 30,000 pairs, which allows for wild birds to be transferred to other European countries. Young birds found in distress, suffering from malnutrition and weakness are often recovered to full health in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres. For this project, the Spanish regional autonomous governments Junta de Extremadura donated birds, and with the help of the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres such as Los Hornos and AMUS supporting rehabilitation efforts and technical procedures, the VCF arranged the transport of 67 birds that travelled over 2,000 km by land and ferries to reach Sardinia. Upon arrival, the vultures fall under the care of local partners. They first perform another health check and then transfer them to an acclimatisation aviary where they spent several months adapting to their new home, getting ready for their eventual release into the wild.
Conservation optimism sharing future actions
Restocking efforts and the massive conservation actions implemented by the partners in LIFE Under Griffon Wings (Sassari University, Forestas, all partners!) greatly contributed to the gradual increase of the Griffon Vulture population on the island, with the last census in 2020 estimating the minimum population of the species in Sardinia to be 242 individuals and the maximum 272. Following this success, the LIFE Safe for Vultures project came to life in 2021 to consolidate and strengthen these excellent results, with the aim to reinforce the local population and bring the Griffon Vulture back to the whole of Sardinia. Restocking efforts play once again an important role in achieving these objectives. The VCF aims to transport 40 additional Griffon Vultures from Spain as well as the captive breeding programme of ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo and Dresden Zoo.
The text was written as part of the first LIFE Safe for Vultures Newsletter.
LIFE Safe for Vultures
LIFE Safe for Vultures is a new project co-financed by the EU’s LIFE Programme, acting as the first step to the restoration of the vulture guild in Sardinia. The University of Sassari leads the project in collaboration with Agenzia Regionale Forestas, Sardegna Corpo Forestale, E-Distribuzione and the Vulture Conservation Foundation. LIFE Safe for Vultures builds on the work of the successful LIFE Under Griffon Wings, with the ultimate objective for Griffon Vultures to regain their historic ranges and distribution areas from the central-eastern part of Sardinia to the south and at the same time promote the long-term survival of the species on the island. The project team is working to expand the network of farm feeding stations, create several anti-poison dog units to tackle wildlife poisoning, establish an additional feeding station in the south of the island, restock the population by importing 40 additional Griffon Vultures and reduce the threat of collision and electrocution with energy infrastructures.