The release of captive-bred mouflons into the wild can help promote the survival of Bearded Vultures in Corsica – but how are the two connected?
The Bearded Vulture population in Corsica has suffered steep declines in recent years and is considered Critically Endangered on the IUCN regional red list of Corsican nesting birds.
The LIFE GypRescue project strives to provide a lifeline to the Bearded Vulture through targeted conservation actions, which include the reinforcement of the local mouflon population. This is why the project team recently carried out the third release of captive-bred mouflons to the wild in Corsica.
Decrease in wild ungulates a problem for the Bearded Vulture
As a scavenging bird, the Bearded Vulture feeds on dead animals, with 80-90% of its diet consisting of bones. The species lives in high mountains, where ungulates (large mammals with hooves) are also present. Wild ungulates carcasses are the best food source for the Bearded Vulture as they are present all year round, but herds are not so abundant in Corsica anymore.
The Corsican mouflon (wild sheep), the preferred food source for the Bearded Vulture on the island, was nearly wiped out in the 20th century due to uncontrolled hunting. The decline in the mouflon population directly impacts Bearded Vulture survival since food shortage is one of the main factors behind the species’ failure to reproduce.
Improving food availability for the Bearded Vulture in Corsica
The decrease in food availability represents a significant threat to the Bearded Vulture in Corsica. The decline in the numbers of both domestic and wild ungulates has negatively affected the species. The LIFE GYPRESCUE project team will inform targeted conservation actions to compensate for the insufficient natural food resources in terms of distribution, quantity and quality.
The project team will continue to provide food at artificial feeding sites (an activity implemented since 1975) and create new such stations at strategic locations. But, feeding stations alone are not enough to mitigate the food shortage. They will also promote pastoralism, support livestock farmers and integrate vulture conservation into relevant policies to increase the availability of livestock carcasses. Furthermore, they will release captive-bred mouflons into the wild to increase the number of herds.
Releasing captive-bred mouflons for the third time in Corsica
As part of LIFE GYPRESCUE, the project team will release at least 20 Corsican mouflons to reinforce their numbers and create a new core population on the island. These mouflons come from a captive breeding facility managed by the SMPNRC. This operation is part of a regional conservation programme led by the OEC, which aims to extend and strengthen the core mouflon population of Bavella.
On Tuesday, 18 October 2022, the first release of mouflon within LIFE GYPRESCUE took place. A project team, led by Parc naturel régional de Corse, released 14 individuals (11 females and three males) into the Cagna massif to join their fellow mouflon in the wild. A helicopter had to airlift the 14 mouflons to the release site from the commune of Quenza.
Before the LIFE GYPRESCUE releases, two initial releases were carried out in 2020 and 2021, allowing the introduction of 15 and 24 mouflons, respectively. So in total, 53 mouflons have been released on the massif. Regular monitoring of this population over the past two years has shown that the animals can adapt well to their new environment. The pristine habitat of this massif helps ensure optimal living conditions for them.
Not only do Bearded Vulture conservation measures in Corsica benefit this species, but they also aid broader conservation efforts, like the reinforcement of the local mouflon population! Since the Bearded Vulture is an umbrella species, this is often the case with such projects.
The LIFE GYPRESCUE project
The Bearded Vulture population in Corsica has severely declined since 2009, suffering a 60% loss of territorial pairs. In 2020, the population numbered 20 individuals with only four territorial pairs, making it urgent to take action.
Led by Parc naturel régional de Corse, in collaboration with Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, Direction des systèmes énergétiques insulaires, Fédération des Chasseurs de la Corse du Sud and us at the Vulture Conservation Foundation, the LIFE GYPRESCUE project (LIFE20 NAT/FR/001553) came to life in 2021 to prevent the extinction of the Bearded Vulture in Corsica. The project team strives to increase the population through restocking actions, improve the natural reproduction and boost the island’s nesting capacity for the species, while preventing human-related disturbance and mitigating threats to reduce mortality.