Young bearded vultures released in Cazorla (Andalucía), Spain

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Young bearded vultures released in Cazorla (Andalucía), Spain 8

The first releases from the 2013 bearded vulture breeding programme, coordinated by the Vulture Conservation Foundation, took place this month in Cazorla, Andalucía.

Three young bearded vultures –one born in the local captive breeding centre in Cazorla run by the Fundación Gypaetus and the Junta de Andalucía, a second from the breeding center of Valcallent (Lérida- Generalitat de Catalonia) and third from the breeding center in Haute Savoie (France) run by local NGO ASTERS- were successfully released on some ledges on the 18th May.

The birds were named by local school children, who could see them at close quarters prior to their release. They were baptized as Guadalquivir (male) , Vera (female) and Estela (female) , After a brief but exciting session with more than 50 local schoolchildren, the young bearded vultures were moved to the release cave, deep inside the Natural Park of Sierra de Castril. They will stay there for about 4 weeks before finally reaching the fledgling age. Soon, they will fly high above the sierras of Jaen and Granada

This release is part of the long running bearded vulture reintroduction project, led by the Junta de Andalucía, itself integrated into an European programme for the conservation of the species, that involves more than 30 zoos and specialized captive breeding centers, national, regional and local research centers, national parks and NGOs. The species is being reintroduced both to the Alps and to the mountains of southern Spain, to try to establish a continuum population from south Iberia to the Alps through the Pyrenees (where the species populations are healthy).

Next month, two more bearded vultures will be released in Andalucía, coming from the German Zoos Tierpark Berlin and Nuremberg.

The species disappeared from Andalusia in the mid-80s, and ten years later the Junta de Andalucía started an ambitious project to bring these magnificent birds back. In 1996 it established the state of the art captive breeding center high up in the Cazorla mountains, and in 2006 the first vultures were released back to the wild. With the 3 birds now released, a total of 26 birds were already reintroduced to the wild in southern Spain, of which 18 are surviving. Some problems with poisoning halted the releases some years ago, but due to the intensive anti-poisoning campaign led by the Junta, together with all the important local stakeholders (including the SEPRONA police force, municipalities, hunters and farmers), there has been no more poisoning of bearded vulture during the last 2 years, so releases have restarted now. It is hoped this project, locally a reason for local pride, will become an engine for development of the rural communities involved.

The individuals now released come from different origins to maximize their genetic variability, and thus maximize their survival. The VCF coordinates the database for all the captive bearded vultures in Europe, and then decides each year about the destiny of the young birds produced each Spring – usually sending birds across Europe to boost genetic variety, and strengthen genetic lineages. Of the 6 birds hatched in the bearded vulture captive breeding center in Cazorla, one of them was already released locally, and one will be kept in captivity to balance the sex-ratio and strengthen genetic lines, while the other four have been sent to France and Switzerland, where they will be released.

The VCF thanks the Junta de Andalucía, Fundación Gypaetus, and all the local staff, who have, over the years, invested a lot of money, effort, know-how and good will in an effort to bring this species back to Andalucía. For more information see http://www.gypaetus.org/noticias/ver/id/212/seccion/participa_noticias

Young bearded vultures released in Cazorla (Andalucía), Spain 10
The young bearded vultures were taken to their release cave deep inside the Sierra de Castril by staff from Fundacion Gypaetus and Junta de Andalucia
Young bearded vultures released in Cazorla (Andalucía), Spain 9
The birds in their release cave. They will fledge by mid-June, until when they will be fed and cared for by the local staff Photo: Fundacion Gypaetus

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