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VCF in the New Year – 3 great successes and 3 challenges for the future

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Photo by Bruno Berthemy

Following a short break, the VCF is back to work for vultures in Europe. The New Year period is always one prone to retrospective analysis and to forward planning. Here at the VCF we also looked back at our past year, and are planning the exciting year ahead. Here´s our summary & plans:

 2013 – Three great vulture successes

  1. Record year for the bearded vulture in the Alps. This project, led by the VCF, together with many partners in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, started in 1986, but is now crossing the final bend – exactly one hundred years after the last bearded vultures were shot from the alps, and 27 years after the first releases, a record 16 fledglings flew from wild nests, and there are 30 established breeding territories in the alpine chain. Birds are also now moving between the Alps and the Cevennes, and between these mountains in central France and the Pyrenees, thus suggesting that a genetic flow between the Pyrenees and the alpine population will soon get established. In a few years’ time we can stop the releases and say – we have succeeded – bearded vultures are back to the alps with a self-sustainable and healthy population
  2. Black vultures back in France. The VCF has facilitated the transportation of a further 6 black vultures from Spain to the two active reintroduction projects in France, that had another great year – they have started to breed now also in Alpes Maritimes (Gorges du Verdon), and their wild population in France totals now 30+ pairs. Looks like the species is now firmly reestablished in the country, and we are one step closer to expand its former distribution range towards the Balkans, where the species is almost extinct
  3. Griffon vultures galore –  the griffon population in Spain (approximately 80,000 individuals) is at its historic peak, but this year has been very good for griffons almost everywhere in Europe – maximum figures for France, and across several countries in the Balkans (Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria). This probably suggests that the battle against the evil poison is producing good results where projects and teams are championing the cause (e.g. in Spain, Serbia and Bulgaria). This also means that Europe is now becoming the vulture continent of the old world – with the catastrophic declines in Asia, and now in Africa, you are most likely to see a great vulture spectacle…in Spain or France!

2014 – Three big challenges to tackle

  1. Egyptian vulture. This species is still declining in most of its range, including its European range. In spite of valiant conservation efforts in Bulgaria-Greece-Macedonian-Albania, the situation there is deteriorating quickly, and the species is on the verge of extinction in southeastern Europe. Some positive signs in France (with a slight increase) or in Andalusia (where the species has stabilized following an excellent anti-poisoning programme run by the Junta) does not mas the overall trend, which is negative and very worrying. The VCF needs to do more on Egyptian vulture in 2014 to help this disappearing species!
  2. Poison. Great work in Spain (led by Junta de Andalucia and also SEO/BirdLife) and parts of the Balkans (e.g. Bulgaria) does not mask a continuing threat – poisoning is still here, killing vultures, eagles and carnivores across Europe, from Spain to Scotland, From Greece to Cyprus. If we relax, it will just destroy years of work – a recent spike in the use of poisoning in Greece has caused extensive damage, including on the endangered Egyptian vulture there. Further, poisoning of vultures in Africa is rampant, with several incidents recently killing many hundreds of vultures, which are fast declining in that continent. At the VCF we believe we can help our African colleagues deal with this situation, exchanging our decades old-experience and best practice, and will try to do just that in the next few months.
  3. Diclofenac may strike back – and this time not in Asia, where it led to a 99% decline of most vulture species, but in Europe, now the stronghold for old world vultures. In the last few weeks of 2013 the VCF has learned that this veterinary drug is being legally produced and sold in Europe, in several countries. VCF, together with a number of partners, including BirdLife International and SEO/BirdLife, are now working behind the scenes to identify, and fight this potential threat – watch this space for further news soon.

Happy New Year to everybody, and let´s start working, together for vultures!

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