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Overview of the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021

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Every year, we at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) bring together over 100 participants to discuss the latest updates and insights on Bearded Vulture conservation and research – the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021 was no different. This time around, Bearded Vulture conservationists, researchers and enthusiasts have joined us once again in the beautiful Die, Drôme, in France between Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 November 2021. In this article, we share the highlights of the presentations from day one and day two of the meeting.

Day one of the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021

Julien Terraube: Research overview

Our very own Julien Terraube shared insights from recently published Bearded Vulture research studies.

Demographic drivers and effectiveness of conservation actions in the Pyrenean Bearded Vulture population

  • There is a need to target research to improve conservation outcomes by understanding demographic drivers of population growth in threatened species
  • We need to study the whole metapopulation as the drivers are different for different age groups
  • Another important thing is to test the effectiveness of conservation actions to improve outcomes

Bearded Vulture demography and implications for population management 

  • Increase in the adult proportions of the population and decrease in juvenile survival, while the survival of adults and subadults is stable
  • Greatest proportional increase of non-breeding adults and also breeding trios
  • As the population increases, the population growth declines
  • Traditional monitoring underestimates the number of non-breeders
  • The Pyrenean breeding population could be at carrying capacity
  • Management of SFS attract floaters away from breeding territories

Spatial dynamics and Bearded Vulture breeding success in the French Pyrenees; Arroyo et al.2020

  • Colonisation probability increased with supplementary feeding
  • Nest success increased with wild ungulate abundance and decreased with Griffon Vulture abundance
  • Supplementary feeding helps the population expansion but does not affect productivity
  • Low productivity in the French Pyrenees

Bearded Vulture reintroduction strategies and impacts on source populations

  • Reintroduction projects are crucial for Bearded Vulture recovery in Europe
  • The most impactful strategy is to remove the juveniles 

Sara Asu Schroer: New Social Anthropology Project on European Vulture Conservation: Introduction and Invitation to Participate

The New Social Anthropology Project on European Vulture Conservation aims to:

  • Trace the historical trajectories of vulture conservation in Europe
  • Explore the diverse values, believes, ideas and motivations underlying conservation initiatives
  • Investigate the challenges of but also possibilities for human-vulture coexistence in increasingly human-dominated landscapes
  • Explore how social and cultural analysis may be productive for actively contributing to wildlife conservation through collaboration with conservation scientists and practitioners in the field
  • Explore how the social agency of nonhuman animals may be better addressed and represented in social science analysis

Alex Llopis Dell & Hans Frey: The Bearded Vulture EEP – breeding results 2021 and expectations for coming years

By breeding Bearded Vultures in captivity and releasing young ones into the wild in several priority areas every year, the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by us at the VCF on behalf of EAZA’s EEP (Bearded Vulture EEP), plays a crucial role in reintroduction and restocking projects. The Bearded Vulture EEP focuses on quality before quantity, which involves ensuring the natural rearing of chicks to behave like their wild conspecifics. The COVID-19 pandemic conditioned chick transfers once again this year. The 2020/21 breeding season suffered 13 embryos and chick losses. Optimistically, it also produced 31 hatchlings, of which 26 became fledglings, and 23 were used in reintroduction projects, while the remaining three joined the captive stock. Six new pairs produced their first fledgling and first clutch. Since the beginning of the reintroduction programme, 367 juveniles were used for in situ projects. Unfortunately, two males and six females within the Bearded Vulture EEP died in 2021. Furthermore, lead intoxication is one of the main causes of bird losses even in captivity, in addition to aspergillosis and West Nile virus. Finally, the first priority of the programme is ensuring long-term viability and the second achieving a stable annual production of chicks.

Fanny Blais: Collaboration between zoos and the EEP during Covid times

Fanny Blais from Puy du Fou shared experiences related to the key role zoos play when it comes to the conservation of endangered species, applicated research and awareness initiatives. Due to COVID-19, zoos stepped up as they had to perform more responsibilities during the Bearded Vulture breeding period. Newly hatched chicks need to be reared by Bearded Vultures to ensure natural rearing and avoid human imprinting. Sometimes, however, individuals at zoos cannot raise their young ones, so chicks are often transferred to other institutions like specialised centres to adopt chicks. But due to the ongoing travel restrictions, this was not always possible during the pandemic. Therefore, the VCF developed emergency protocols that the zoos implemented to ensure natural rearing, which prepares chicks to survive in the wild and breed when they become adults.

Pakillo Rodriguez: Andalusia Captive breeding record

Our own Pakillo Rodriguez, the manager of the Bearded Vulture captive breeding centre of Guadalentín, discussed the continuous accomplishments attained by the centre, which is considered the most important of its kind. At Guadalentín, the first successful hatchling happened in 2002, with the releases beginning in Andalucía in 2006. Furthermore, the team implement natural breeding techniques, meaning that the chicks are reared by Bearded Vulture adults until the end of their development. The centre currently hosts seven breeding pairs, and in 2021 achieved a worldwide record by producing ten chicks, accounting for 40% of the chicks hatched in the Bearded Vulture EEP this year. Another important aspect of this centre is that it specialises in double and triple adoptions, therefore adopting chicks from other facilities, this year adopting 3 external chicks, with 6 breeding pairs raising a total of 13 chicks.

Mirco Lauper: IBM update

The VCF-coordinated International Bearded Vulture Monitoring Network (IBM) is a unique international collaboration between national and natural parks and non-governmental organisations to monitor the Bearded Vulture population in Europe. This year, IBM noted 12 mortalities and one recapture of wild birds. Furthermore, the International Observation Days (IOD), a citizen science event, witnessed 680 observations across several Bearded Vulture areas in Europe.

PN Marittime, Maestrazgo, Alpi Cozie: News from the Alpine project partners and Maestrazgo 

In the Alpes Maritime National Park, the Usseglio pair has been successfully breeding for three years.

At Stelvio National Park and Grand Paradiso National Park, there has been an increase of the population in the North West Italian Alps since 2010, reaching eight territories of Bearded Vultures now. 

The Maestrazgo project started in 2018, and the birds come from different sources – the Bearded Vulture EEP, release and translocation of adult birds. Three captive-bred birds were released in 2021, two females and one male (one died from unknown reasons, probably from a Golden Eagle attack). Since 2018, a total of 9 birds were released, 7 of which are still alive and doing well.

The Andalusian reintroduction project is evolving well. All the released individuals have GPS transmitters and rings. Since 2006, 79 individuals have been released, with 11 chicks hatching in the wild, and the population estimated from 52 to 64 individuals. In 2021, the project team recorded six breeding territories and three chicks hatching. So far, 26 birds died – the primary mortality cause is poison, followed by lead intoxications, shooting, conflicts with Golden Eagles and electrocution.

Toni Wegscheider: Establishing the first release site in Germany – expected impacts on the eastern alpine Bearded Vulture population

For the first time, two captive-bred Bearded Vultures were released using the hacking method in the Bavarian Alps. After fledgling, the birds spent three months near the release area. Both birds don’t use the feeding sites but rather forage naturally.

The preparatory activities for this action included, among others, evaluating the release sites, attaining permissions, finding funding opportunities and promoting Bearded Vulture reintroduction in Bavaria. The event accumulated the highest media coverage than any other event in the national park, reaching millions of Germans, gaining more than 600,000 webcam views with 11,000 comments and 45,000 GPS map views with 1,100 comments. It is considered the most spectacular conservation project in Germany in 2021, and maybe ever. 

David Izquierdo: Translocation of adults in Maestrazgo

There is a significant ongoing discussion with conservationists whether translocation of adult floaters should take place – the worst thing that could happen is the birds returning to the Pyrenees due to the strong philopatric behaviour of the species. The project plans to release 20 birds in 5 years. It is very difficult to catch and target adult birds. The selected birds are well known, marked birds that are more than ten years old and are non-reproductive adults. The project uses ‘hard release’, which means directly releasing the birds after their transportation to Maestrazgo. The seven birds that met the parameters were caught and released, and only one bird remained in Maestrazgo as the rest returned to the Pyrenees to their original locations. Some birds stayed only one day in Maestrazgo and returned straight back to the Pyrenees. Since they returned, they haven’t left the Pyrenees. 

Anthony Andarelli: Bearded Vultures on Corsica – perspective with the LIFE GypRescue

The reproduction rate of Bearded Vultures on Corsica is very low and the last chick observed was in 2020. Food availability remains an important issue as wild ungulate populations are declining. Furthermore, poisoning and lead poisoning poses a potential problem, although it’s not quantified. 

The new LIFE-funded project ‘LIFE GypRescue’ strives to increase their numbers on the island and improve genetics through restocking and reinforcing the local population. Additionally, to improve productivity through supplementary feeding actions and the reduction of human pressure to habitats as well as problems with ravens and black kites on feeding sites. Moreover, it aims to secure Corsican lineage by taking eggs from the wild and through artificial incubation include them into the Bearded Vulture EEP. Finally, the project team plans to increase the number of wild ungulates (mouflon) by breeding ex-situ and reinforcing the existing populations.

Franziska Lörcher – VCF: Bearded Vulture release strategy 2021+

In the last two years, the VCF and partners released 44 birds, signifying a great result, with 10 more birds released than originally agreed. But, the supply of birds for the reintroduction and restocking projects must never jeopardise the future of the Bearded Vulture EEP, as a balance is needed. Concerns include the aging population of birds in the captive breeding programme, the surplus of females and the rare genetic lineages from males that are urgently needed.

Furthermore, rare genetic lineages are needed in the Alps, except for Bavaria for the time being. Andalusia also needs more rare genetic lineages as it is also isolated. Another goal is to start a new Bearded Vulture reintroduction project in Bulgaria starting in 2024, if approved.

Day two of the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021

Irene Zorilla: Complex investigation and CSI after the death of 3 Bearded Vultures in Andalusia

A proper investigative response followed after the discovery of a striking mortality case concerning three Bearded Vultures in Andalusia. Although poisoning was the first suspicion based on the circumstances, toxicology analyses came back negative. Furthermore, the lab did not find acute or chronic diseases but unexplained lesions like heart necrosis. New necropsies revealed perforated eardrums, and after differential diagnosis, they concluded that lesions were caused by electric storms happening in this area around the date of deaths.

Jovan Andevski: Large vulture reintroductions in Bulgaria, 2021 update

The VCF’s Jovan Andevski presented updates about the reintroduction of large vultures in the Balkans. Conservationists have been dreaming of large vulture restoration in Bulgaria for decades, and they are closer to fulfilling this dream. The initial efforts began with the Griffon Vulture. Between 2010-2021, 360+ Griffon Vultures were released in three core areas, resulting in the establishment of 8-9 colonies. The next step was the reintroduction of the Cinereous Vulture. So far, 66 Cinereous Vultures were imported to Bulgaria between 2018-2021 and 51 were released. Nineteen died due to anthropogenic and natural causes (14 released transported and released in the acclimatisation aviary and five captive-bred and released using the hacking method).

The Vultures Back to LIFE project team identified six breeding pairs throughout the country, with the first wild-hatched Bulgarian Cinereous Vulture linked to this reintroduction project fledging in October 2021. Thanks to all these conservation actions preparing for the return of Griffon and Cinereous Vultures, which are still ongoing, the first releases of Bearded Vultures in Bulgaria could start in the next few years.

Jovan Andevski: Balkan Detox LIFE and Wildlife Crime Academy

Jovan also introduced his work around the Wildlife Crime Academy. This initiative was established by a collaboration between the Junta de Andalucía, the Spanish Government and the VCF. It relied on an incredible collaboration between NGOs and institutions from the Balkans. Our Andalusian colleagues who managed to reduce poisoning incidences by 80% in 17 years are leading the training sessions by sharing their best-practice experience with key stakeholders from elsewhere, enabling them to build capacities and effectively fight wildlife crime in their respective countries. This year, the first-ever Wildlife Crime Academy occurred, with individuals from nine countries completing the Basic Course and the Advanced Course so far.

Enrico Bassi: Lead contamination in tissues of large avian scavengers in south-central Europe (I, F, CH and A)

Enrico Bassi from Stelvio National Park presented the results of lead analyses on top predators and scavengers from the Alps. Results identified that lead concentration is higher in Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures. Findings determined that five out 58 (8.6%) individuals examined had acute lead intoxication. Finally, 52% of Golden Eagle carcasses and 17.2% of Bearded Vulture carcasses were contaminated with lead, with 45% of Griffon Vulture carcasses in Grands Causses also being contaminated. Help protect scavengers from lead by signing the petition to ban lead ammunition in the Alps.

Ilka Champly: Mapping of bearded vulture exposition risks to lead from hunting ammunition as a tool: the example of High Savoy

Ilka Champly introduced a mapping tool to predict lead exposure risk. It is crucial to evaluate the exposure risks of Bearded Vulture to lead hunting, and there is a need to work locally with hunters. In Haute Savoie, they mapped the exposure by crossing the occurrence data of the lead hazard (hunting reports with information of administrative hunting territories and geographic division of these territories) and of feeding by the vultures (distribution limits of the Bearded Vulture on the territory concerned and ‘densities’ of vultures on the territory where they are present).

Sergio Vignaly: Predicting areas of potential conflicts between Bearded Vultures and wind turbine development in the Swiss Alps 

Predictive distribution models for the Bearded Vulture in Switzerland have been developed based on a combination of random observations and GPS tracking data. The models show that 40 per cent of the Alpine region is a suitable habitat for the species. Thanks to a better understanding of the habitat requirements of Bearded Vultures, (i.e. ibex abundance and geomorphology are important drivers of Bearded Vulture distribution in Switzerland during the warm season), maps can now be drawn up showing areas with particularly high conflict potential and which should not be used for wind turbines.

A big thank you goes to everyone who participated and helped in the organisation of the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021 and the Final LIFE GypConnect Seminar

You can check out the live updates we shared on Twitter via #BeardedVultures2021.

Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021 and the Final LIFE GypConnect Seminar logos

Save the date: Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2022

SAVE THE DATE Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2022

We are already looking forward to next year’s annual meeting and have set the provisional dates for 11 to 13 November 2022. The meeting will take place at Parco Natura Viva, Italy, as they kindly offered to host the event. Please book these dates in your calendar and follow the VCF’s news on our website and social media to stay tuned.

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