LIFE RUPIS

Strengthening the populations of the Cinereous Vultures, Egyptian Vultures and Bonelli´s Eagle in the cross-border Douro Canyon

Egyptian Vultures at Lamoso © Palombar

Initiative periodJuly 2015 to July 2019
Initiative areaPortugal and Spain – Douro Canyon
Target speciesEgyptian and Cinereous Vultures

The LIFE Rupis conservation project aims to strengthen the populations of the Egyptian Vulture and Bonelli’s Eagle, as well as the Cinereous Vulture in the Douro Canyon that borders Portugal and Spain.

Europe’s smallest vulture, the Egyptian Vulture is classified as ‘Endangered’ according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Over the last 40 years, its numbers have decreased by over 50%. While Europe’s other three vulture species show an increasing population trend across the continent, the Egyptian Vulture continues to decrease in numbers. The largest population of this species can be found on the Iberian Peninsula, and the cross border Douro Canyon is one of its strongholds with an estimated 135 breeding pairs.

We’re working with our partners to carry out actions in the Douro Canyon to tackle threats these birds face, helping to reduce mortality and increase their breeding success.

LEARN ABOUT THE TARGET SPECIES

With funding from the European Union’s LIFE programme and the MAVA Foundation, we’ve been working alongside the project lead partner, Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), since 2015 to carry out a range of conservation actions to tackle the threats we’ve identified as well as carefully tracking the movements of the migratory Egyptian Vulture during the breeding season in Europe, along its migration route and in its overwintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

MONITORING

Each year the Egyptian Vultures of the Douro Canyon travel over 7,000 km between their summer and winter grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. To better understand their travels and the potential threats they encounter, we have been fitting birds with small satellite tracking devices to monitor their movement. These devices usually last between three and five years and send location data over the mobile communications network and using this information we are able to identify the areas they use to feed in the Douro Canyon and their migration routes to their winter grounds. Follow the Egyptian Vultures released we have tagged with our online maps.

IMPROVING FOOD AVAILABILITY

One of the issues facing Egyptian Vultures across the Douro Canyon is a reduction in the availability of food. Our partners are setting up a network of feeding stations with donations of animal by-products from local butchers to supplement their food supplies they find in the wild. The project team are also creating a set of recommendations for local livestock owners to improve the availability of food for vultures based on evaluation of European Union health regulation on the disposal of dead animals.

TACKLING THREATS

Two of the major threats facing Egyptian Vultures in the Douro Canyon are illegal wildlife poisoning and electrocution. Working with the GNR, Portugals national police force, we have established two anti-poisoning canine units comprised of a dog highly trained to detect dead animals and poisoned baits and handler. This unit is being used to patrol the area to establish a poison-free area by controlling and removing poisoned baits before they can negatively impact local wildlife. We have also established a set of protocols for the collection and identification of toxic substances that help establish cases of illegal wildlife poisoning. We are also collaborating with energy company EDP Distribuição to help reduce deaths of vultures caused by electrocution when birds perch on low or medium tension powerlines by insulating the most high-risk cables.

LIFE Rupis – Conserving Egyptian vultures in Portugal and Spain

They are Europe’s smallest vultures, and worryingly out of the four species of vultures in Europe, they are the one that is still in decline. The LIFE Rupis conservation project in the Douro Valley that borders Spain and Portugal aims to reduce Egyptian vulture mortalities and improve breeding success in one of the densest and most important nucleus of this species in Europe. 

Egyptian vultures

Easily spotted thanks to their bright yellow head and black and white plumage, the Egyptian vulture is the smallest vulture in Europe, weighing around 2kg. Egyptian vultures are Europe’s only migratory vulture spending its winters in Sub-Saharan Africa and returning from March to reproduce in Europe. 

Egyptian vultures in Europe

In 2007 the species was declared globally ‘endangered’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. In Europe the population of Egyptian vultures has declined by a staggering 50 percent in the last 40 years and on the Balkan Peninsula has declined by 80 percent leaving just 40 pairs. The majority of the European population is found on the Iberian peninsula with an estimated 1,300 – 1,500 pairs, the remaining populations being in France (80 pairs) and Italy (10 pairs).

The drastic decline of the species in Europe is the result of loss of habitat, shortage of food through changes in land use, and mortality – due to illegal wildlife poisoning not just in Europe but along the migratory flyway between the summer and winter ranges, electrocution and  collision with cables and windfarms.

LIFE Rupis

Led by the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) and launched in 2015, LIFE RUPIS projects aims to strengthen the population of Egyptian vultures in the Douro valley, a stronghold for the population on the Iberian Peninsula. 

With funding from the European Union’s LIFE+ programme and the MAVA Foundation, LIFE Rupis will work to reduce the mortality of the 135 breeding pairs in the Douro valley that borders Spain and Portugal to improve the breeding success of the Egyptian vultures. 

The Douro Valley bordering Spain and Portugal
The Douro Valley bordering Spain and Portugal

Tracking Egyptian vultures

The migratory Egyptian vulture carries out a 7,000km round trip between their summer and winter grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. To better understand their travels the LIFE Rupis has been tracking Egyptian vultures with GPS transmitters, a first for Portugal.

Before they head off on their migration wild young and adults were caught and fitted with a small GPS transmitter. Weighing between 30g and 40g GPS transmitters are fitted on the backs of the vultures to track their movements without having any significant impact on the birds themselves. The highly efficient solar powered satellite transmitters send their GPS position over the mobile communications network and can provide as many as 500 location-fixes per day. Using this data we can track these birds to identify the areas they use to feed while in the Douro valley, and the migration routes that will help the LIFE Rupis team better understand the threats they may face during their migration.  

Supplementary feeding

One of the issues facing Egyptian vultures in Europe is a reduced availability of food. The LIFE Rupis project are setting up a network of feeding stations across the Douro Valley where donations from local butchers and other animal by-products are placed to support the population of the species.

Tackling threats 

The project is tackling the most important threats to Egyptian vultures – illegal wildlife poisoning and electrocution risk. Like other vulture species, the illegal use of poison by hunters and farmers to control unwanted mammalian predators and feral dogs is the biggest threat to Egyptian vultures in the region and can have devastation impact on populations. LIFE Rupis have been working with Portugal´s police force GNR to create an anti-poison dog unit – comprised of a dog highly trained to detect dead animals and poisoned baits and handler. This unit is being used to patrol the area in order to establish a poison-free area by controlling and removing poisoned baits before they can negatively impact local wildlife.

Portugal's first ever anti-poisoning dog unit
Portugal’s first ever anti-poisoning dog unit

Electrocution is another major threat but is often overlooked, when perching on medium tension electrical cables. To tackle this threat the team are working with EDP Distribuição, in Portugal and Spain’s Iberdrola and Red Eléctrica de España to insulate the most dangerous power lines.

Power lines insulated and made safe for vultures
Power lines insulated and made safe for vultures

For more information about the project follow #LIFERupis on Twitter or Facebook and keep an eye on our website as we regularly publish news from the project. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top