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Portuguese Cinereous Vulture rescued, rehabilitated, tagged and released in the Douro

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The released Cinereous and Griffon Vulture (c) ICNF

A young Cinereous Vulture got a second chance at life after the bird was rescued, rehabilitated, and released in Portugal. Saving just one Cinereous Vulture in Portugal is significant as the breeding population is still small and fragile. Ahead of the release, the vulture was equipped with a GPS tag, allowing the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and partners to track its movements.

Rescue, rehabilitation and release

A few months ago, the Institute for Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF)  rescued a young Cinereous Vulture in Fafe, in northern Portugal and transferred it to their Wild Fauna Recovery Centre in Gerês to receive the proper treatment. With the help of the team at the Veterinary Hospital of Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, the vulture made a full recovery and was ready to return to nature! 

Releasing the Cinereous Vulture (c) ICNF

The LIFE Rupis team placed a GPS tag on the female vulture, provided by the VCF, to monitor her movements and be able to intervene if she ever needs help again. Then, on 29 October, the ICNF released the Cinereous Vulture, named Belavista, in the Douro International Natural Park, where there is a small colony of this species present. Alongside Belavista, the team also released two Griffon Vultures that were successfully rehabilitated! 

Tagging Cinereous Vultures in Portugal

The GPS tag weighs between 30g and 40g, and yet it provides invaluable information that will help inform more accurate conservation actions. We can understand the bird’s movements, foraging ranges and habits, and realize when a vulture is no longer moving and potentially injured. This information is vital to reveal any threats the bird may face during its travels, giving insights to conservationists that will allow them to carry out actions to reduce the threat it faces and help support the species comeback in the area. 

The first-ever tagging of a Portuguese nestling happened in 2018 when staff from Liga para a Proteção da Natureza tagged one young bird in Contenda with a VCF tag, and we have so far tagged 10 Cinereous Cultures in Portugal, of which six are still transmitting.

Cinereous Vultures in Portugal and the Douro

Cinereous Vultures recolonized Portugal in 2010, after several decades absent as a breeding species, and the species now numbers 35 pairs breeding in three colonies, one in the north (Douro), one in the centre of the country (Tejo Internacional) and one in the Barrancos area (south). These recolonizations were mostly due to expansion of nearby Spanish colonies, following the spectacular recovery of the species in Spain (increased from 250 pairs in the 1970s to 3,000 breeding pairs now).

The first Cinereous Vulture pair that established itself in the Douro nested in 2012 — this recolonization was surprising and unique, as the pair settled about 100 km from the nearest colonies, located in Spain. Cinereous Vultures usually live in colonies with dozens of individuals. Sometimes, newly formed couples move away from a colony, starting a new nucleus, but usually, these new nuclei form 10 or 20 km from the original colony — not 100 km!

There has been a range of conservation projects supporting the conservation of the Cinereous Vultures in Portugal such as the LIFE Lynx-Vulture, managed by LPN, and the cross-border LIFE Rupis project in the Douro Canyon. 

LIFE Rupis

The LIFE Rupis conservation project, led by Portuguese wildlife organisation Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), and funded by the European Union’s LIFE Fund and the MAVA Foundation, is working in the cross-border Douro region of Spain and Portugal to protect and strengthen the populations of Egyptian vultures and Bonelli´s eagle. With around 135 breeding pairs, the region has one of the largest population of Egyptian vultures in Europe. Creating a network of feeding stations, improving habitat and nesting sites as well as tackling the major threats of electrocution from electricity pylons and illegal wildlife poisoning, the LIFE Rupis project will strengthen the population and improve breeding rates.

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