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Bringing back the vulture
Who would have thought that man would want vultures back!
Stage 1: a false start
The first aviary was built in 1970 to house four young vultures (less than one year old) brought in from Spain. They were released one year later, in July 1971:
- one was electrocuted on an overhead power line,
- one was shot by a hunter,
- the other two were never seen again.
This failure was analysed as being due to the young vultures' erratic behaviour (not settling at a specific site) and poor preparation in the field. It was decided to take as long as necessary to build up a balanced population of vultures in captivity, with enough breeding couples. In the end, this took ten years.
Stage 2: Patience is a virtue
For 10 years, carcasses were transported to the site and winched into the aviaries to feed the captive birds.
A new aviary was built, with a zone set aside for reproduction, as eggs laid before then had not hatched out due to the jostling in the early overcrowded aviaries.
It was also necessary to keep the local population informed, with posters, organised events, newspaper articles, etc., and discourage the use of strychnine (which was prohibited by a prefect's decree).
Stage 3: first birth in captivity
1980 saw the first vulture chick to be born in captivity.
Stage 4: 14 December 1981 was D-day - freedom at last
At this time the colony comprised around 50 birds, including five breeding couples.
December was chosen as it is the start of the breeding season, the best time for the birds to colonise the site.
Three feeding places were set up for the released birds.
Nesting sites were cleaned and "marked" in white to mimic droppings and attract the vultures' attention.
On 15 December 1981, the five couples were released. Only one remained intact, with the other four breaking up.
Six vultures succeeded in forming a group, two were lost, one in an accident with a power cable, and the last was too tame and needed to be returned to captivity.
Over the next five years sixty birds were released, forming the core of the current colony of over 200 vultures.