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The end of an era – historical bearded vulture pair in Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol (Austria) died

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One of the oldest, and most important, pairs of bearded vultures in the captive breeding network coordinated by the VCF has now sadly disappeared.

On the 18th of August last year, the 48+ years old male bearded vulture in the Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol died of old age. Four months later, on the 27th of December, veterinarians from the Zoo euthanized the 50+ years old female, which was suffering.

This male produced an incredible 71 eggs during its time at the Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol. A total of 26 chicks fledged from these, and 13 of them have been released, mostly in the Alps, in the in-situ projects coordinated by the VCF. One of them, the male “Andreas Hofer”, released in 1996 in the Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, settled down at the release site and is now breeding in Kruml valley. He is the father of the first juvenile fledged in Austria since the extinction of the bearded vulture more than 100 years ago.

The Alpenzoo Innsbruck pair is also at the heart of the bearded vulture European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) that the VCF is coordinating, and which is at the base of the successful reintroduction projects now being implemented across the Alps, in the Cevennes-Massif Central (France) and in Cazorla (Spain). It was due to the constant breeding success achieved with the Alpenzoo breeding pair that the idea of an internationally coordinated Bearded Vulture reintroduction project in the Alps based on captive breeding was originated. The guidelines and working method of this long-term project were agreed at an international meeting celebrated in Morges (Switzerland) in 1978. One of their premises was to use only birds that were already in zoos or injured birds from the wild that could not be recovered – no wild bearded vulture was ever taken from the wild to the captive breeding programme since 1978!

This famous founder pair has an interesting story too: they were brought as adults from Kopetag (on the border between Turkmenistan & Iran) to the Dresden zoo in the early 70’s. On the 7th of February 1972 they laid their first egg there. Because they were kept together with other large birds of prey there they did not incubate this egg (too much disturbance). On the 22nd of October 1973 the pair was transferred to the Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol. Two months later, on the 20th of December, the female laid an egg from which hatched their first descendant, and so began their successful reproduction carrier. In 1978 the original female died, and was replaced by another one from Artis zoo (Amsterdam).  After many successful breeding seasons, the pair started to show signs of old age – their last two chicks were blind, and the last egg was laid in 2010.

The staff from Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol has also spent countless hours studying and describing the behavior of these birds in captivity, and thus helping develop the husbandry guidelines that today are used by dozens of zoos. Dr. E. Thaler, Dr. H. Pechlaner and their staff have, for example, described for the first time the aggressive behavior of the chicks in nests with more than one hatching, which always causes the death of the younger sibling. This behavior -described as “obligatory” caiinism-, is independent of the satiation level, and is more pronounced 5-20 days after hatching. As a result, since then double clutches have always been removed for artificial hatching, and the second chick then given for adoption by a foster pair –it can return to their parents after this critical period.

The VCF would like to thank Alpenzoo Innsbruck – Tirol staff and management for this success story. In the VCF we are all working to try to replace this historical pair with another one sometime soon.

The bearded vulture cage at AlpenZoo Innsbruck-Tirol

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