Missing Bearded Vulture Wally found dead

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Bearded Vulture Wally photographed in flight © @auswahl/ Instagram
Bearded Vulture Wally photographed in flight © @platinfisch

Sad news from the Bearded Vulture reintroduction efforts in the Bavarian Alps: just over a week before the second release in the region, a climbing team found remains of the female Bearded Vulture Wally, who had disappeared since mid-April. The cause of death remains unknown, and Wally’s bones are currently being examined. 

Wally among first two Bearded Vultures released in Bavaria

Bearded Vultures in Europe reintroduction
The VCF’s Franzsika Lörcher supporting the first-ever release of Bearded Vultures in the Bavarian Alps © Hansruedi Weyrich

Last year, for the first time in over 140 years, the Bavarian Alps in Germany became the home for two young Bearded Vultures. The two female vultures named Bavaria and Wally hatched within the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) on behalf of EAZA’s EEP, which breeds the species for conservation purposes. Around three months after hatching, in June 2021, the LBV and Berchtesgaden National Park (BNP) released the two vultures in a hacking cave to promote the geographical expansion of the species towards the east and boost conservation measures in the region within the ongoing Alpine reintroduction project

Wally goes missing

Following their release, two young Bearded Vultures survived the winter without any problems, gradually carrying out longer excursions and foraging successfully. On 11 April, LBV observed Wally in the wild for the final time. She looked healthy with no visible signs of impairment. Four days later, in the late morning, her GPS transmitter sent the last signal from the Reintal valley east of the Zugspitze. LBV team searched intensively to find the transmitter or Wally, but without any luck. Still, it was unlikely that a healthy bird perished in these mountains since nine out of ten Bearded Vultures in the international reintroduction programme survive their first year.

Renewed search for Wally discovers remains

For the first time since 15 April, LBV unexpectedly received a short-lived signal and shortly launched a renewed search for Wally. Now, with a more precise idea of the possible location, the team set off on their quest for Wally and finally discovered what happened. Sadly, it was bad news. On an inaccessible steep rocky slope near Zugspitze, at an altitude of 1,500 metres, the search party found Wally’s remains – bones, feathers, the identification ring and the GPS transmitter. 

Cause of death remains unclear

Upon discovering what was left of Wally, LBV immediately submitted her remains to an independent specialist agency for examination. It is always vital to try and determine the causes behind vulture mortality to inform more accurate conservation measures. In this instance, it’s quite complicated due to the limited remains. The cause of death is completely unclear and we are still not sure whether the lab can find a scientifically verifiable conclusion about the cause of death.

Although young and reintroduced Bearded Vultures have high survival rates, birds have died in the Alpine region in recent years. Besides human-induced threats such as collision with cables, poisoning by lead hunting ammunition or illegal shooting, there are a number of proven natural causes – examples include avalanches or fights with Golden eagles. 

The team remains hopeful and committed

Bearded Vulture Bavaria_auswahl
Bearded Vulture Bavaria photographed in flight © @platinfisch

In more positive news, Bavaria, released alongside Wally last year, is doing well and is currently carrying long excursions around BNP. Soon, the project team will also release two more young Bearded Vultures to support the Eastern Alpine population. 

Setbacks are part of such initiatives and Wally’s fate underlines the need for long-term reintroduction projects. We know that reintroduced Bearded Vultures can survive in the Alps and remain optimistic about the upcoming releases of two more young Bearded Vultures in the region.

You can follow the VCF on Facebook and Twitter to stay tuned with the upcoming Bearded Vulture releases.

Source: LBV

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