The European captive breeding program (EEP) for the Eurasian black vulture registered excellent results this year, with 11 hatchlings in total across the zoo network, of which 8 survived. Zoos and animal parks in the Eurasian black vulture EEP network try to breed the species in captivity to use the chicks in reintroduction projects, but in 2011 releases were suspended, as breeding success was relatively low and the zoo population suffered from an unhealthy demography with an old population and a negative growth. Young ones were instead kept to balance the stock – see http://www.4vultures.org/our-work/captive-breeding/black-vulture/ for information about the Eurasian black vulture EEP.
This year though the positive breeding results allowed for 2 of the 8 chicks produced to be released: Lucie, born in the Bioparc de Doué la Fontaine (Angers, France), and Monaco, bred in the Grand Parc du Puy du Fou (Les Epesses, France) were recently brought to a release aviary in the region Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, close to the Grand Canyon of Verdon in France, where a reintroduction project with this species is ongoing, led by the League Pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO PACA Verdon). Monaco and Lucie stayed in the aviary for several weeks to get accustomed to their new environment. They have a beautiful view over the region and the big canyons.
Twenty-five Eurasian black vultures have so far been released in Verdon, of which 4 are still present. Three other birds released in Baronnies are also present there. Black vultures bred successfully in Verdon for the first time last year.
Last week a team from LPO PACA Verdon, SWILD (Switzerland), Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and Planckendael Zoo (EEP/CRC) recaptured the birds to take measurements, ring them, bleach some feathers and fit them with GPS transmitters. With the marking of the feathers and the colour ring the birds can later be identified in the field through direct observations. The GPS transmitter will allow researchers to follow in detail all the movement of the birds. It is the first time that Eurasian black vultures from the EEP breeding network are equipped with satellite transmitters, and this will allow for information on the survival rate and dispersal of the released captive-bred birds to be collected. It is also the first time that GPS tags will be deployed on this species in France.
The aviary will be opened next week, and the two young birds will be able to make their first flight into freedom then. We wish the two young birds a successful start into their new life and hope that in a few years they will start to reproduce. In 2008 two young birds from Planckendael Zoo, Jean and Julia, were released at the same place. Jean – a male black vulture – bred this year for the second time. Its chick will fledge soon.