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Looking for (bearded vulture) Kilian

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Kilian is an immature bearded vulture released in Austria in 2014 (Hohe Tauern National Park), as part of the alpine reintroduction project, coordinated by the VCF and implemented by its many partners across the Alpine arch.

Kilian, who had a GPS tag, suddenly vanished in the Trafoi Valley (Bozen) in South Tyrol Stelvio National Park in the end of May.

The last GPS signals came from a very remote area on a rocky cliff at 2850 m a.s.l. on Monte Madraccio (red circle in photo). We have asked our colleagues in Stelvio National Park to look for the bird, and at first the wardens of Stelvio NP (Agenti Forestali Provinciali) Christian Tschenett and Cristian Pentori tried to reach the area but they could not reach the last 200 m around the last GPS signal.

Early this month the staff from Stelvio NP tried to look for the bird (or the lost radio) using a drone (Phantom 3) to film and collect images of the focal area. This was done by a team of Ludwig Schopf, Christian Tschenett, Stefan Sprenger, Andrea Roverselli and Enrico Bassi.

During 4 flights, the drone filmed for a total of around 50 minutes the focal area, collecting images and movies at high definition. In the following days, these were carefully checked to try to identify Kilian’s body or its tag, with negative results.

Using this tool, the researchers from Stelvio NP could exclude the presence of Kilian over the monitored area. During the research, they found in the focal area a roosting place with a remarkable quantity of white faeces. This roosting place probably is used by the local breeding bearded vulture pair named “Ortler”. Sometimes it happens that bearded vulture floaters land on the traditional roosting places of established pairs looking for food remains or for social attraction.

Drones could be an valuable tool for wildlife research if properly used under the coordination of expert ornithologists to avoid the risk of impact and disturbance.

Hopefully Kilian is still alive and it has simply lost its tag. We hope to collect evidence of its survival (biological samples or pics) in the future.

The VCF would like to thank Ludwig Schopf (owner of the drone) and the Stelvio National Park team for a fantastic job. In photo from left to right: Andrea Roverselli, Ludwig Schopf, Christian Tschenett, Enrico Bassi and Stefan Sprenger.

Photos: Ludwig Schopf and Andrea Roverselli

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