The population of the Griffon Vulture in Sardinia is booming according to the census conducted by LIFE Safe for Vultures through survey groups and in collaboration with LIPU, Legambiente and L’altra Bosa. The data collected in 43 days of monitoring is presented in the report recently published by Fiammetta Berlinguer – scientific head of the project led by the Department of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Sassari, and partnered by Agenzia Regionale Forestas, Sardegna Corpo Forestale, E-Distribuzione and the Vulture Conservation Foundation – Mauro Aresu, Francesco Guillot and Alfonso Campus.
Population, reproductive success and productivity increases for the Griffon Vulture in Sardinia
The survey started with data collected as part of the preceding project, LIFE Under Griffon Wings, which, over five years, grew Italy’s only indigenous Griffon Vulture population, located in North-West Sardinia. The population increased in all its parameters: from 27 Griffon Vulture breeding pairs and 20 young fledged in 2015 to 51 breeding pairs and 37 young fledged in 2020.
Based on the significant population increase, the project team assessed the effectiveness of the implemented Griffon Vulture conservation actions. In December 2020, the LIFE Safe for Vultures project team and colleagues started checking the known sites occupied by territorial Griffon Vulture pairs. Between January and September 2021, they continued recording the reproductive parameters of each active pair, resulting in a census of 66 territorial pairs: 61 in the Bosano area (+92.4%) and 5 in the Algherese area (+7.6%). In total, 10 colonies were occupied (9 in the Bosano area, 1 in the Algherese area), consisting of a minimum of 2 pairs and a maximum of 16, and 4 isolated sites, all in the Bosano area. The number of territorial pairs increased (+6), as did the number of clutches (+4) and the number of juveniles (+8), with a record 45 new fledglings.
Reproductive success and productivity increased by 12.3% and 9.7% respectively. At least 4 mixed pairs, consisting of individuals from the LIFE Under Griffon Wings restocking programme and individuals from the local population, completed their breeding cycle. Brood losses decreased (8 in 2021, 12 in 2020) and the prenatal mortality rate dropped from 23.5% to 14.5%. There was a loss of two young before hatching, but the postnatal mortality rate fell from 5.1% to 4.3%. Overall, there are an estimated 300 Griffon Vultures in Sardinia today.
Targeted conservation actions responsible for the increase also favour other wildlife
“It was an extraordinary breeding season, especially in the Alghero area, and the most successful year for reproduction”, emphasises Mauro Aresu, a member of the group that conducted the census. “The success of the project also favoured the nesting of the Egyptian Vulture at Punta Cristallo. He hopes that the success of LIFE Under Griffon Wings “will continue in southern Sardinia with the new LIFE Safe for Vultures project”.
In the North West, the result is appreciated with the naked eye. This is confirmed by Francesco Guillot, LIPU’s regional coordinator for Sardinia. “Sightings are much more frequent and the species range is getting wider,” he says. “Before, the Griffon Vultures used to go towards the Bosano, but now they assiduously frequent the Nurra,” he explains, before emphasising the importance of “the feeding stations and the work of Forestas, which supplies the Prigionette feeding station with its associated companies, which is fundamental for “fixing” the pair from which the recolonisation started.
For Alfonso Campus of L’Altra Bosa, who has always been at the forefront of the project’s support, “the synergy has led various actors to coincide on the same objectives”. According to Campus, “activities such as the creation of the feeding stations involve the local communities, whose role is indispensable if the Griffon Vulture is to return to the natural environment to which it has always belonged”.
Furthermore, the director of the Porto Conte Regional Natural Park, Mariano Mariani, believes that “bringing back breeding pairs to Punta Cristallo also required conservation activities, thanks to which there were spontaneous colonisations also by other species of conservation importance, such as the Egyptian Vulture and the Osprey, confirming our commitment to protecting protected species”.
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.