The Alpine Bearded Vulture Project
© Zoo Goldau
To breed and reintroduce bearded vultures into their former range in the Alps
The largest native bird, the bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus, was wiped out from the Alps in 1913. Erroneously believed to predate on lambs - hence its other name "Lammergeyer" - this scavenger, who, over the time, has specialised in the digestion of bones, was untiringly persecuted by hunters and herdsmen, and the last remaining specimens were shot for completing museum collections. Once the Alpine population disappeared, bearded vultures from Sardinia, Greece, Algeria and Spain also had to suffer the consequences of this collection mania.
However, the nominate form (a second subspecies exists in Africa) survived in the mountain ranges of the Pyreneans, Caucasus, Elburz, Zagros, Hindu Kush, Himalaya, Tien Shan, and Altai, as well as on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Crete, and was regularly displayed in Zoological Gardens.
Thanks to extensive conservation and support measures, the Pyrenean population is developing well. Elsewhere in Europe, bearded vulture populations are decreasing rapidly. In Corsica, only eight pairs were left in the 1990s, and in Crete the number is about the same. In continental Greece the situation is critical too, and in Algeria and Tunisia the species is probably extinct. Reasons for the decline are illegal shooting, poisoning, or collision with high-tension cables. There are only few data on the size of the surviving populations in the eastern part of Eurasia: In 1998 the entire Caucasus population was thought to comprise 115 to 126 breeding pairs, of which 90 to 95 pairs in the Greater Caucasus and the rest in the Lesser Caucasus.
The Alpenzoo in Innsbruck was the first institution to succeed, in 1974, to ex situ breed the bearded vulture. Since that time young Bearded vultures have hatched regularly, and a breeding centre was established at Haringsee (Austria) under the direction of Dr. Hans Frei of the Vienna Veterinary University. Knowledge has been gained and many bearded vultures from different regions of origin were collected at the centre. Releasing sites were sought in the Alps and, in 1987, the first young bearded vultures were released to an artificial nest at Rauris in the Alpine range of Austria.
In January 2006, the bearded vulture EEP (ex situ breeding stock) counted 127 (66.60.1) birds. That same year 19 eggs hatched, of which 16 chicks were succesfully raised by their parents or foster parents. Since the establishment of the Bearded vulture EEP, 144 juveniles have been released into the wild. In 1997 the first successful breeding in the wild took place in Savoie (France). In February 2007 the first breeding occurred in Switzerland. One pair consisting of a female released in 2000 and a wild-born male from Italy bred in the Swiss National Park. The second pair, consisting of two birds released in 1998 in Switzerland and France respectively, bred at the Federal Game Reserve "Haut de Cry" in the Canton of Valais. The current wild population comprises about 110-120 birds.
In April 2005, the Landscape and Animal Park Goldau (Switzerland) received the Eco Award of WWF Schwyz, because the park has so far invested about 3 million Swiss Francs into to conservation of the bearded vulture and provided information to 3.5 million of visitors. The award ceremony coincided with the opening of a new Bearded Vulture Information Centre at the Park.
WAZA Conservation Project 04023 is jointly operated by the Foundation Pro Bartgeier, Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture, Frankfurt Zoological Society, WWF, Veterinary University of Vienna, University of Zurich, Agence Pour l'Etude et la Gestion de l'Environment - APEGE (now called ASTERS), National Parks in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland, and the following zoos participating in the Bearded vulture EEP: Antwerp Zoo, Tierpark Berlin, Berlin Zoo, Dortmund Zoo, Dresden Zoo, Hannover Zoo, Nuremberg Zoo, Wilhelma Stuttgart, Walsrode Bird Park, Wuppertal Zoo, Helsinki Zoo, Artis Zoo Amsterdam, Wassenaar Wildlife Breeding Centre, Tel Aviv University Zoo, Almaty Zoo, Alpenzoo Innsbruck, Cumberland Wildlife Park Grünau, Vienna Zoo, Poznàn Zoo, Moscow Zoo, Berne Animal Park, Goldau Landscape and Animal Park, La Garenne Zoo, Ostrava Zoo, Prague Zoo, Liberec Zoo, San Diego Zoo. The project is supported also by the European Union and national and local authorities in different countries.
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© Zoo Goldau