The spectacular recovery of the bearded vulture

The species is close to extinction but thanks to the efforts of an in-captivity breeding centre several pairs are now living in the wild

JOSÉ LUIS PIEDRA

The bearded vulture is flying in Andalucía again thanks to the spectacular recovery of this species after a programme of breeding in captivity and reintroduction was begun by the Andalusian government 15 years ago.

The project, which is coordinated by the regional Ministry of Agriculture, Farming, Fishing and Sustainable Development, is now seeing its best results so far with a total of five pairs who have bred after being released into the wild, and the ten chicks which have born at the Breeding Centre at Guadalentín, in the Cazorla natural park in Jaén province, so far this year. This is a record number, the highest ever in a centre of this type in Europe, placing it at the forefront of the 15 which exist on the continent.

Every birth of a baby bearded vulture is a real miracle for the survival of a species which is in danger of extinction. Since the first one was born in captivity in Guadalentín in 2002, eggs have hatched and produced 100 chicks, of which 90 have guaranteed the conservation of a type of bird which is essential for the biodiversity of the planet.

With regard to breeding in the wild, the first attempts were not very successful because, of the first three, two disappeared and a third left Andalucía for the north of Spain. However, he then returned to Cazorla and did something historic in 2015, breeding with a different female bird who had been released.

That was the first time in 40 years that such an event had taken place in the mountains of Andalucía, and it resulted in the birth of Esperanza (Hope in English), the first female bearded vulure to be born in the wild in Andalucía, who is already trying to reproduce at the age of nearly six.

Since Esperanza was born, more birds have been released and five breeding pairs currently fly in the Andalusian sky, of which three females in the Cazorla natural park are bringing up their chicks despite the difficulties normally encountered in this species with their first clutches, which are rarely successful. There is also a sixth pair who have so far made no attempt to breed.

Some of the birds released in Andalucía come from other European centres, to strengthen their genetic quality, says Íñigo Fajardo, the coordinator of the bearded vulture programme.

He attributes the success of this project to the team and their efforts over many years. He also praises the work of the Vulture Conservation Foundation, which manages the Guadalentín and other centres in Europe, as well as the collaboration of the zoos in Berlin, Liberec and Tallin.

The eradication of the use of poison in the mountains, key to their survival

The eradication of the use of poison in the Andalusian mountains has been key to the survival and recovery of the bearded vulture, says Íñigo Fajardo, the coordinator of the Recovery and Conservation programme for Necrophagous Birds in Andalucía.

In his opinion, the first birds to be released probably fell prey to poisoned baits, but the strategy introduced by the regional government more than a decade ago, and increasing awareness and cooperation from land owners and users of mountainous areas, has been essential in combating this serious threat to the species.

Íñigo Fajardo also says that "you have to have a great deal of patience when it comes to bearded vultures, because they are difficult birds. They have a lot of character and they live a long time, which is why they take so long to start breeding, it can be up to ten years," he explains.

He also points out that with this species it is often the case that they don't reproduce at the first attempt.

And this is something which has occurred with several pairs in the wild.