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Update on the efforts to establish captive breeding programme for the Southern Africa bearded vulture

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Following a long term decline of southern Africa´s bearded vultures – the number of occupied breeding territories decreased between 32% and 51% over the past five decades – southern Africa conservationists decided last year to start a programme of captive breeding, to safeguard the future of this isolated population, that now numbers no more than 400 individuals.

As there was only one southern Africa bearded vulture in captivity, and the subspecies is different from Europe, the build-up of a captive nucleus has to be based on eggs collected from the wild – second eggs from known nests, and hand-rearing with a puppet, at least for the early stages of the programme. After exchanges with the VCF and transfer of knowledge and know-how, staff from the KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife authority, who leads the programme, the African Birds of Prey Sanctuary and the Bearded Vulture Task Force have collected two eggs from wild nests last year – the two juveniles are doing well in their new aviary with artificial cliff face.

This breeding season the project was hoping to collect four second eggs from nests in South Africa and Lesotho. The season started off well with staff spending time in the field selecting a number of active nests from which eggs could be harvested, but then the entire region received heavy snowfalls and this prevented vehicle, foot or helicopter access to all identified sites. One site that was accessed before the snow unfortunately had no eggs even though the female had been on the nest the week prior. A second site visited at the end of the incubation period already had only one healthy chick, as expected – so no eggs were in the end collected. However, the team in southern Africa has learnt a lot to prepare for next year’s endeavours and they have also identified two previously unknown nest sites.

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Photo Shannon Elliot

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