Following the release of 6 captive-bred Egyptian vultures last year in Italy, three more birds will be released in the next weeks in Bulgaria, as part of trials to evaluate the relevance and the effectiveness of this conservation tool to help the endangered Egyptian vulture.
The reintroduction or restocking of vultures to former distribution range has been a very successful conservation tool in Europe: the bearded vulture for example has been reintroduced successfully in the Alps and in Andalusia, and the griffon and black vultures have been also reintroduced in several places, including France (both species) and Bulgaria (griffon only).
While some of the reintroduction projects with griffon and black vultures can use wild birds originating in wildlife rehabilitation centres – after they are found weak or injured they are nursed back to health and then released in the projects elsewhere, with bearded and Egyptian vultures there is no possibility of using birds from the wild, so captive breeding is the only source of birds for reintroduction
The VCF developed successfully the methods for captive breeding in bearded vultures, and coordinates now the 40+ institutions that participate in the excellent captive breeding programme for reintroduction, and that produce on average 15 fledglings each year that are released in the four on-going reintroduction projects – Alps, Andalucia, Grands Causses and Corsica.
Can captive breeding in the Egyptian vulture play a similar role in the future? The coordination of captive breeding in this species was upgraded to an EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) in 2012 by EAZA, the European Association for Zoos and Aquaria, to respond to the 2007 downlisting of the species as Globally Endangered. In an EEP, a network of zoos and breeding centers work in a coordinated way towards maximising captive breeding for conservation purposes. The coordinator of the Egyptian vulture EEP is Anton Vaidl, curator of birds at Prague Zoo and also a member of the VCF scientific advisory board. With Vaidl´s enhanced coordination and guidelines, the number of birds produced yearly has been increasing.
Last year the VCF an CERM (Endangered Raptors Centre Association – Italy) released 6 birds in southern Italy , as part of an experiment to test procedures and get crucial data on the feasibility and relevance of captive-breeding and restocking/reintroduction projects with this species. Results were mixed: Two of the birds made it to winter in Africa, but three downed in the Mediterranean.
The birds to be released in Bulgaria this year come from the Zoos in Paris and Vienna, and will be released through the hacking method in a natural niche in northern Bulgaria, close to a supplementary feeding site, and near an active Egyptian vulture nest, in collaboration with the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria, Rusenski Lom Nature Park and Green Balkans, and in the frame of the LIFE project The Return of the Neophron.
We will give you more details soon – keep tuning in!