Vultures are magnificent birds that not only fulfil a vital function in our ecosystem, but are part of our culture. The bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus is the rarest of the four vulture species that exist in Europe and has a population estimated at 170-180 pairs.
In Andalusia (Spain), the bearded vulture disappeared in 1986 mainly because of direct persecution, accidental poisoning and human disturbance at the nesting sites.
The Fundación Gypaetus operates the bearded vulture breeding centre (CCQ) of Cazorla, which was inaugurated in 1996. It became one of the most important centres for ex situ conservation of the bearded vulture worldwide. More than 50 chicks born in the centre have been used for captive breeding or released in various projects to reintroduce the species in Europe. Ten years after the opening of the centre, young birds were released for the first time in the Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas (Jaén, Andalusia). Since then, 37 young bearded vultures have been released in Andalusia.
Unfortunately, in the early days, 11 birds were poisoned through pesticides used to kill small predators in the wild. A major anti-poison awareness-raising campaign was carried out in the region from 2010 to 2015, which significantly reduced the mortality of released birds.
The hard work, also supported through the EU LIFE fund, is showing results and two territories are occupied by individuals released under the reintroduction project in Andalusia. Tono (a male released in 2006) and Blimunda (a female released in 2010) paired up in the National Park and on 7 April 2015, the first chick was born in the wild in Andalusia since the species stopped breeding in the region over 30 years ago! Hortelano (a male released in 2010) and Marchena (a female released in 2012) have taken up residence in a second territory in the same Park — there are high hopes for results!
Something that felt like a dream 30 years ago is becoming reality: seeing the bearded vulture flying in Andalusian skies again.