Keep Europe’s vultures flying


This video about Africa says about itself:

Vultures Steal Hyena’s Lunch

A flock of big, tough Rüppell’s griffon vultures are more than a match for a pack of hyenas.

From BirdLife:

Keep them circling: a hymn to vulture beauty

By Lisa Benedetti, Wed, 17/06/2015 – 10:52

Big, bald and ugly, consumers of rotting flesh and bone, it’s not surprising that vultures have long been misunderstood creatures. Persecution and poisoning have pretty much wiped them out across most of Europe and elsewhere. But the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) and its partners are doing everything possible to make sure they keep circling high above us.

Vultures cast a dark shadow while flying in seemingly never-ending circles. Even if you don’t know much about birds, you probably know it’s a vulture. There are four species in Europe, Griffon, Bearded, Cinereous and Egyptian Vultures. The Egyptian is a globally threatened species, while Bearded and Cinereous Vultures are Near Threatened. Even though they may come across as creepy birds, they do an important and dirty job for us. They eat dead animals which helps stop the spread of some terrible diseases like rabies, which kills thousands of people in some parts of the world each year.

Over the last decades, the Vulture Conservation Foundation has been helping bring these threatened European vultures back to their historical distribution. Probably the most exciting part of their work has been reintroduction efforts where birds raised in captivity are released in strategic locations. Bearded Vulture reintroduction has been especially important because it’s the rarest vulture species in Europe (regionally Vulnerable in Europe according to the European Red List of Birds). It can live up to 40 years and were once found across Europe’s southern mountain ranges, from western Spain to the Balkans, but in many of these places they were exterminated. In the … mountains for example, Alpine people were once so afraid that it killed lambs and small children that a price was put on its head and there was a massacre. The last known naturally occurring Bearded Vulture was shot in the Alps in 1913.

Spanish people called this species the ‘bonebreaker’ (Quebrantahuesos) because this species doesn’t tend to eat meat. Instead, almost their entire diet is made up of bleached carcass bones. Yes, that’s right, bones. Like all vultures, the Bearded Vulture has a remarkable digestive system with gastric acids that are so corrosive they are able to digest rotting meat as well as bones. It can swallow and digest bones the size of a sheep’s vertebrae. And just to show off how smart they are for a bird, if the bones are too large, they fly and then drop them onto rocks below so that they shatter into smaller more manageable pieces. Another odd thing is that while they have black facial markings and black wings, the rest of the head, neck and body are a rich rusty orange. But this color isn’t natural, the feathers are white. For some mysterious reason they rub themselves with ferric oxides, and so give their feathers a different color.

In 1986, VCF released the first Bearded Vulture in Hohe Tauern National Park in Austria, and then began releases in France, Italy and Switzerland. In 1997, the first breeding pair raised a chick in the wild, and since then over 125 wild born vultures have fledged from parents that were raised in captivity. Because these vultures have responded so well, recent efforts have focused on bringing the species back to Spain in Andalucia. Just this year, they’ve released about a dozen Bearded Vultures: in Cazorla/Andalucia, the Grands Causses, the Austrian Alps and the Swiss Alps, and the latest four in the Italian Alps and Andalucia.

This May 2015 video is called Blimunda with the first wild bearded vulture to hatch in Andalucia for more than 30 years.

Because of the efforts of VCF, it’s partners and volunteers, more than 140 vultures soar again in the Alpine skies. Today, the total European population is about 580 to 790 breeding pairs; in the Pyrenees, Corsica, Crete, the Alps, Turkey and the Caucasus. But probably the greatest reward for the people that worked so hard to bring back this species back to Andalucía, and other places in Europe where it had vanished, is seeing released Bearded Vulture taking care of their first baby chicks in the wild.

Good griffon vulture news from Bulgaria


This video from Bulgaria is called The vultures in Eastern Rhodopes.

From Wildlife Extra:

Record numbers of Griffon Vultures reported in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains

Vultures of many kinds are on the rise in Bulgaria’s remote mountains

The numbers of Griffon Vultures found to be nesting in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria has risen considerably, reports Rewilding Europe.

In February 2015, experts from Rewilding Rhodopes and its partner the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/ BirdLife Bulgaria visited all the known nesting locations of Griffon Vultures in the Eastern Rhodopes.

Of the 75 registered Griffon Vulture pairs in the area they found that 55 were at an incubation stage and the rest were in the process of building their nests.

Most of the identified pairs consist of adult birds.

“The positive trend of increase of the population of the Griffon Vulture in the Eastern Rhodopes continues this year as well: five more pairs compared to 2014,” says Dobromir Dobrev from the Rewilding Rhodopes team.

“An interesting result of the monitoring is the large number of single, non-breeding birds along the Arda river valley.”

Griffon vulture was widespread in Bulgaria in the past but in the mid 20th century numbers decreased dramatically and by the beginning of 70s the species was considered extinct.

In 1978, a small colony with one breeding pair was found in the area of Studen Kladenets, Eastern Rhodopes.

Eight years later a Griffon Vulture colony of nearly 20 birds and three nesting pairs was discovered near the town of Madzharovo.

Shortly after, the first direct conservation efforts in Bulgaria started: monitoring, artificial feeding and work with local communities.

Gradually, the species recovered and its breeding population increased from about 10 pairs in 1990s to 70 in 2014.

Today, the Arda valley is the breeding area of one of the largest natural colonies of Griffon Vultures in the Balkans.

Maintaining and supporting the comeback of the vultures in the Eastern Rhodopes is one of the highlights of the recently started five-year rewilding activities financed by the Swiss-based Fondation Segré.

The Eastern Rhodopes is also the most important breeding site for the globally threatened Egyptian Vulture on the Balkan peninsula.

The last remaining breeding colony of Black Vultures in South-eastern Europe is situated nearby, in the Dadia forest on the Greek side of the border, and the birds regularly come over to the Bulgarian side of the mountains in search for food.

Why African bearded vultures die, new study


This video is about adult and young bearded vultures (and ravens), in the Pyrenees in Spain.

From Wildlife Extra:

Technology solves disappearance mystery of one of Africa’s famous birds

The mystery of the gradual disappearance of the Bearded Vulture, one of Africa’s most famous birds, has been solved using the technology of satellite tracking.

Once widespread throughout much of Southern Africa, the Bearded Vulture is now critically endangered, with a decline in nesting sites of nearly 50 per cent since the 1960s.

The remaining population is now restricted to the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho and South Africa. But even in these isolated mountains they continue to decline.

Satellite trackers attached to 18 Bearded Vultures have confirmed conservationists’ worst fears: humans are largely to blame with collisions with power lines and poisoning being the two major vulture hazards that killed half of the birds in the satellite tracking survey.

These are key findings contained in two new research projects published this month. The studies paint the most detailed picture to date of the challenges facing the Bearded Vulture, also known as the ‘bone breaker’ due to its habit of dropping bones from a height to feed from the marrow inside.

The first paper, published in the international ornithological journal The Condor by scientists from EKZN Wildlife and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town, found that human-related factors were the common denominator in differences between abandoned and occupied Bearded Vulture territories.

Lead author on the study Dr Sonja Krueger says: “We explored where the biggest difference lay between abandoned and occupied territories and found that human related factors such as human settlement density and powerlines were consistently different between these sites.”

Power line density and human settlement density were more than twice as high within abandoned vulture territories compared to occupied territories, the study found.

Results also suggested that food abundance may influence the bird’s overall distribution, and that supplementary vulture feeding schemes may be beneficial.

By contrast climate change was not found to be a major contributing factor in nest abandonment.

“Though not definitive, the results strongly suggest that we humans are our own worst enemies when it comes to conserving one of Africa’s iconic birds,” Krueger says.

The study recommended a new approach to vulture conservation management: “Based on the identified threats and mechanisms of abandonment, we recommend that conservation management focus on actions that will limit increased human densities and associated developments and influence the attitudes of people living within the territories of (vulture) breeding pairs,” the study concluded.

“We recommend that mitigation of existing power lines, stricter scrutiny of development proposals, and proactive engagement with developers to influence the placement of structures is essential within the home range of a territorial pair.”

The study’s findings are backed up by a second paper published in open access journal PLOS ONE, which relied on data from satellite trackers attached to 18 Bearded Vultures.

The trackers not only showed the exact location of the tagged birds every hour, they also provided critical information on movement patterns and mortality.

Tagging enabled dead birds to be quickly recovered and their cause of death determined.

The study confirmed that, in addition to power lines, poisoning was considered the main threat to vultures across Africa and was contributing to the so-called “African Vulture Crisis”– a large decline of many vulture species across the continent.

The tracking data also provided new information about the birds’ ranging behaviour. It revealed that non-breeding birds traveled significantly further than breeding birds and were therefore more vulnerable to human impact.

Some young non-breeding birds patroled an area the size of Denmark. The average adult bird had a home range of about 286 sq km, but the range was much smaller for breeding adults at just 95 sq km.

Dr Arjun Amar from UCT said detailed knowledge about Bearded Vulture home ranges could be hugely beneficial to vulture conservation: “We knew the species was likely to have large home ranges, but our results show just how far these birds travel – and therefore how exposed they are. The more they travel, the more they risk colliding with power lines or falling prey to poisoning.”

Extended beard of Bearded Vulture – incredible effect of drug revealed: here.

In a report published in the scientific journal Conservation Letters, scientists from across Africa, Europe, and North America have published the first continent-wide estimates of decline rates in African vultures: and find that many national parks and game reserves appear to offer vulture species in Africa little effective protection: here.

California condor baby, unexpected discovery


This video from the USA is about California condors.

From Discovery News in the USA:

Baby California Condor Surprises Wildlife Experts

Jan 12, 2015 03:00 PM ET

Biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) were taken by happy surprise, with their recent discovery of a previously unknown juvenile condor alongside a known breeding pair of adults in Big Sur, Calif.

Because there are so few California condors — just 116 living in the wild in California, according to the VWS — the big vultures are closely monitored by biologists. It’s unusual, then, for a new arrival to hatch and be reared by its parents unobserved.

VWS suspects the breeding pair seen with the juvenile are indeed the proud parents. The organization thinks the amorous couple, known as #209 (or “Shadow”) and #231 (or “Wild 1″), are nesting in an area of the Ventana Wilderness that is so remote it’s inaccessible to observers.

“It’s just a sign of how well the flock is doing — that they are flying out on their own, making nests and breeding on their own,” biologist and VWS Big Sur condor project coordinator Joe Burnett told the San Francisco Chronicle.

A cursory glance at the numbers helps underscore the enthusiasm felt by the biologists.

By 1987 the California condor, the largest bird in North America, with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, had become nearly extinct in the wild. The last 27 animals were captured and cared for in captivity. Habitat loss, poaching and lead poisoning (thanks to hunters’ lead bullet fragments present in big-game waste) were among the factors that led to the condor’s dance on the edge of total extinction.

But successful captive-breeding and wild-release programs have since boosted the California condor‘s population to today’s overall count of 425, according to VWS. In addition to California, condor populations can also be found in Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

The recent surprise pairing marks just the third time since 1997 that California condors have mated without being observed, the Chronicle noted.

“This is truly exciting to witness as it offers another example of condors surviving on their own,” said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson in a statement.

Save European vultures


This video says about itself:

Spain: Deadly Danger for Europe’s Vultures

24 July 2014

Spain is home to the largest population of vultures in Europe, but their numbers are steadily declining. A new drug for cattle now threatens to wipe out the vultures altogether.

Vultures have long had a bad reputation in Spain. Time and time again, the birds are illegally poisoned, because they are said to prey on living cattle. Now the EU has authorized the administration of veterinary diclofenac to livestock in Spain and Italy – a deadly threat to the four species of vultures that live in Spain. The anti-inflammatory drug has already led to the near-extinction of the vulture population in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The birds ingest the substance when eating the carcasses of cattle treated with the drug, and die of kidney failure.

From BirdLife:

European Medicines Agency asks the European Commission to address vulture-killing drug

By Martin Fowlie, Mon, 15/12/2014 – 16:08

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has supported the arguments expressed by BirdLife regarding the risk that the veterinary use of the drug diclofenac represents to vultures. In their scientific opinion on diclofenac and vultures, EMA is asking the European Commission to act immediately and outlines a series of possible measures to avoid the poisoning of vultures.

BirdLife welcomes the scientific opinion issued by EMA, and urges the European Commission to implement the safest and most cost-effective measure available: a full ban on the veterinary use of diclofenac in Europe. The report of EMA supports this, as it recognises that the withdrawal of the marketing authorisations of diclofenac is the only measure that negates the risks completely, without affecting animal welfare since alternative drugs are available.

Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation for Europe and Central Asia said, “The European Medicines Agency is sending the right message both to the European Commission and to FATRO, the company that currently commercialises this environmentally dangerous drug in Europe. But this is not over yet, we will remain vigilant and continue to mobilise our supporters to make sure veterinary diclofenac is out of the market. Every minute counts.”

BirdLife has led, in collaboration with many other environmental groups, an international campaign aiming to ban veterinary diclofenac. This drug was identified as the sole reason for the massive population declines that occurred in South-East Asia, where all vulture populations suffered declines over 97% in the last two decades. The drug is now banned in a range of countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

A recent paper in Science warned over the risks of veterinary pharmaceuticals to wildlife.

Thijs Kuiken, Professor of Comparative Pathology at the Erasmus Medical Center and lead author of that study said, “I was shocked when I first heard that diclofenac had been authorised for use in—of all places—Spain, which is a stronghold for vultures in Europe. This example shows that we need to radically change the way we deal with pharmaceuticals, both those used in human and veterinary medicine.“

Chris Bowden from BirdLife’s UK Partner, the RSPB, co-author of the article and co-ordinator of the international conservation consortium Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) said, “Three species of vultures were brought to the verge of extinction in South Asia by the then unknown effects of a veterinary drug. It is perverse that regulators in Europe have chosen to disregard this event and allow the strong possibility that diclofenac will enter the food chain of vultures and other scavenging birds there. The problem is now well-researched and I hope that the EU follows the commendably rapid response of South Asian regulators, who acted quickly to remove the drug from vultures’ food.”

Vultures play a vital role in European ecosystems, especially in Spain where more than 95% of the continent’s vultures reside. Spanish vultures remove more than 8000 tons of livestock carcasses per year, which helps control disease and pests and also serves to recycle nutrients. These ecosystem services provide an estimated economic saving of 1.5 million Euros.

The impact of diclofenac on vultures is just one example of a problem that has much wider implications. In 2004, an estimated 6051 tons of biologically active substances were included in the production of veterinary pharmaceuticals in the EU. While these drugs may benefit the health of domestic animals and the efficiency of livestock production, they can contaminate the environment indirectly. This is a threat to non-target species, including humans.

See also here.

Why vultures can eat carrion


This video is called Feeding a Vulture – Vultures: Beauty in the Beast – Natural World – BBC Two.

From Wildlife Extra:

A super-gut allows vultures to eat disgusting carcasses

Vultures are able to eat rotting carcasses covered in bacteria that could kill other creatures because their super-digestive tract is able to kill, or tolerate, dangerous bacteria like Clostridia, Fuso- and Anthrax-bacteria without ill-effects, a new study has found.

Co-author Michael Roggenbuck from University of Copenhagen explains: “Our results show there has been strong adaptation in vultures when it comes to dealing with the toxic bacteria they digest. On one hand vultures have developed an extremely tough digestive system, which simply acts to destroy the majority of the dangerous bacteria they ingest.

“On the other hand, vultures also appear to have developed a tolerance towards some of the deadly bacteria — species that would kill other animals actively seem to flourish in the vulture lower intestine.”

The scientists investigated the DNA of bacteria living on the face and gut of 50 turkey and black vultures from the USA and found the facial skin of vultures contained DNA from 528 different types of micro-organisms, whereas DNA from only 76 types of micro-organisms were found in the gut, meaning a staggering 452 have been got rid of along the way.

“Apparently something radical happens to the bacteria ingested during passage through their digestive system,” says fellow co-author Lars Hestbjerg Hansen from Aarhus University in Denmark.

Gary Graves of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History observed: “The avian microbiome is terra incognita but it is not unreasonable to suppose that the relationship between birds and their microbes has been as important in avian evolution as the development of powered flight and song.”

See also here.