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The bearded vulture returns to the Alps

A magnificent bird with an approximate wingspan of three meters, the bearded vulture was disappearing from the Alps at the beginning of the 20th century, a victim of legends wrongly accusing it of attacking herds and stealing children. The Petzl Foundation supports the Conservatoire d'Espaces Naturels de Haute Savoie (Asters association) in their work strengthening this growing population in the Alps and in their conservation efforts.

SEPTEMBER 2014

Bearded Vulture © Antoine Rezer

  

  • Project partner:  Asters association, Haute-Savoie nature conservatory, and for the film, Mathieu Le Lay of the French language animal film training institute
  • Country:  France, Upper Savoy
  • Project type: Preservation of the environment
  • Budget: €14,500 since 2008 and climbing equipment

The Bearded vulture is among the 4 great European vultures, with the Griffon Vulture, Cinereous Vulture and the Egyptian Vulture. This species remains one of the most endangered species in Europe.

It lives and nests on cliffs high up in the mountains. This bird of prey is important to the ecosystem since it eliminates the carcasses of dead animals: in fact, this "bone crusher" only eats the bones! After its disappearance in the early twentieth century, this bird of prey was reintroduced in the French Alps in 1986 by the Asters association, which is the Haute-Savoie nature conservatory. Asters has a network of more than 300 professional and volunteer observers to help monitor the birds in the wild, ensuring their protection and reproduction, which is essential for the survival of the species.

Bearded vulture © Antoine Rezer
The Bearded vulture

Interview: "the species is not yet out of danger"

Etienne Marle © ASTERS Marie Heuret © ASTERS

Interview with the Asters staff responsible for the Bearded Vulture Project in the Alps: Marie Zimmermann, program coordinator and Etienne Marlé, wildlife manager, responsible for the bearded vulture breeding center.

What role did the association play in the Bearded Vulture Project?

Etienne Marlé : Twenty years ago, Asters began reintroducing the bearded vulture into the environment, particularly in the Haute-Savoie. While we continue to run this program, the association is now involved in the restoration plan of this vulture on the national level. Asters is also working with the commitment of locals, the public and children to save the bearded vulture.
Nevertheless, even though these actions have been successful, the species has not yet been saved.

What have you done to boost the population?

Etienne Marlé : All the birds that have been reintroduced into nature come from the European breeding network. The Asters association manages the Haute-Savoie breeding center, which is unique in France, and which is part of this network.
We use video surveillance to track their reproduction in captivity, and then the images are transmitted at www.gypaete-barbu.com. The chicks born in the center are then released at one of the alpine sites or other European sites involved in the project: Andalusia, Sardinia…

How do you track the birds and their reproduction in nature?

Marie Heuret: We monitor the birds in the natural environment thanks to about 300 observers in the Haute-Savoie (passionate volunteers, hut keepers, rangers on nature reserves, the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, the Office National des Forêts, etc.).
The information gathered through the International Bearded Vulture Monitoring program allows us to evaluate the success of the program: number of matings, survival rate, mortality rate…

Bearded Vulture © Antoine Rezer

What are the threats to this bird of prey? How can they be reduced?

Marie Heuret: This area comes under a lot of pressure from tourist activities, so it is essential that the reasons why people are killing the birds directly or disturbing the nesting areas be dealt with first. We are working towards:
• getting the information to the hunting federations and therefore reducing poaching,
• encouraging the burial of electrical infrastructures or making existing ski lifts more visible,
• guaranteeing peace for the bearded vulture during the entire reproductive period, from October to August,
• guaranteeing constant wild food sources.

Banding young birds of prey

Today, with twenty-two breeding pairs and ten healthy young birds, their population has grown but still remains critically low. To learn more about their habits and their habitats, nature conservationists band or ring the chicks using a color coding system for better remote visual identification.

Bearded Vultures are closely monitored in France by the Asters association to assess their health, and to observe the Alpine population and its interaction with the Pyrenean and Corsican populations. Asters also measure the effectiveness of conservation programs.

In 2013, to identify and track young birds born in the wild, the Asters association decided to band the chicks in the nest. The species is very sensitive to the slightest disturbance. The chicks can only be banded when they are big enough and almost able to fly.

a three-week-old gypaéton

Three breeding pairs live in Haute-Savoie. Reproduction is not an easy process and only one chick has been banded so far. A network of volunteers and climbers has been set up to observe its flight.

The Petzl Foundation funded this project and provided the technical equipment required.

The Bearded Vulture: a great actor

Encouraging conciliation between naturalists and climbers to enable intelligent shared use of cliff faces is one of the foundation's aims.

The short-film:

Gypaète Airlines from Mathieu Le Lay.

In 2011, the Petzl Foundation also helped to finance the film "Bearded Vultures and Men", directed by Mathieu Le Lay.

One of the major goals of the film was to encourage respectful behavior to avoid disturbing these vultures in climbing sites during their nesting periods and to achieve harmonious co-existence of man and nature in this area.

The film was officially released in autumn 2011. Since then, the documentary has been presented at various animal film festivals and has been shown on TV. This emblematic species of the Alpine area is a subject of immense curiosity and the film has filled countless theaters throughout France.

Bearded vulture © Jean-Luc Danis

"Bearded Vultures and Men", from Mathieu Le Lay
"Bearded Vultures and Men", from Mathieu Le Lay.

Marie Heuret, Asters, Manager of the Bearded Vultures program, says: "The film entitled, Bearded Vultures and Man, has been a huge success and everyone wants to see it!
For Asters, managers of the national action plan to protect the bearded vulture in the French Alps, the film offers an amazing tool to promote our reintroduction and conservation actions and to attract new volunteers to monitor the species."

Official Movie Trailer:


• Official Movie Trailer "Bearded Vultures and Men" on Vimeo

• The film is available on DVD: www.mathieulelay.com/des-gypaetes-et-des-hommes/

Successful release of 3 Bearded vultures in the Vercors massif

In June 2013, three Bearded Vultures were reintroduced in the Vercors massif. This action aims at reinforcing the Alpine population and creating a corridor between the Alps and the Pyrenees.

This reintroduction is in line with a biodiversity restoration policy led by the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors since the 1980s. It has been the object of a partnership with Asters, the Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (Birds Protection League).

This conservation plan is also supported by the Ministry of Ecology. The Petzl Foundation supports ASTERS in its role of dialogue/cooperation with climbers.

Bearded vultures: the site of the release The site of the release, a cave halfway up the cliff in the background.

Bearded vultures: observation of the release site from a hut
Observation of the release site from a hut

The Bearded Vulture is faithful to its birth or release place, but it is not guaranteed that it will come back there. The birds have stayed in captivity for a month to be fed and observed, before having finally spread their wings.

Bearded Vulture head © Julien Heuret Bearded Vulture in flight

As it is underlined by Benoit Betton, coordinator/leader of the biodiversity district of the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors:

"We have to favour the dialogue between the different stakeholders so that everybody could benefit from a preserved environment. It is out of question to forbid the climbing activity but to find common grounds to share the territory. The reintroduction of the Griffon vulture in Archiane in 2007 is the proof that climbers and birds can live together. Indeed, the formers give information to the nature enjoyers/ specialists about the presence of vultures on the site and propose solutions, such as bypassing climbing routes."

In order to maximize the success opportunities of this reintroduction, le "Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors" has planned to repeat this operation every year until 2015.

Watch the video:


For more information: www.gypaete-barbu.com

Updated in september 2014


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