The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is one of the four vulture species present in Europe. It is classified as vulnerable at the European level and as Critically Endangered on the IUCN regional red list of Corsican nesting birds. As a carrion-eater, the bearded vulture feeds on dead animals, consuming mostly their bones. In Europe the species can be observed in high mountains where ungulate herds are theoretically present throughout the year. However, the abundance of ungulates in the Corsican mountains has gone down significantly. One of the biggest threat this species is facing in Europe comes from the fragmentation and isolation of its population. The population of bearded vulture in Corsica has severely declined since 2009 (loss of 60% of territorial pairs). The population’s effective size was approximatively 20 individuals in 2020, with only 4 territorial pairs. Due to its isolation, Corsican, as well as the Pyrenean populations, seem to have developed genetic specificities. Nevertheless, experts have highlighted the importance of enhancing exchanges between the different populations.
The main objective of the LIFE GYPRESCUE project is to prevent the extinction of the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) in Corsica by reviving natural reproduction and increasing the island’s nesting capacity for the species, while preventing human-related disturbance and mortality.
The project’s specific objectives are to:
- Increase the number of bearded vultures while ensuring protection of the Corsican genetic specificity, by translocating individuals from the EEP (European Endangered Species Programme) network;
- Increase the number of bearded vultures by improving feeding resource availability on the island, as food shortage is one of the main factors underlying the vulture’s failure to reproduce. Supplying food at artificial feeding sites, which has occurred since 1975, is apparently not enough. Exchanges with other projects in Europe, including LIFE GYPCONNECT, will feed into the development of new protocols;
- Limit disturbances induced by human activities;
- Prevent mortality through poisoning;
- Avoid mortality due to collision, impact, and electrocution on electricity lines;
- Identify unknown factors influencing population decrease.
The project contributes to the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy (targets 1, 2 and 6), the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive, and the National Action Plan on Bearded Vultures.
- At least a 20% increase in population size. A minimum of 4 juvenile bearded vultures released within the duration of the LIFE project, through the EEP network, which will increase genetic diversity and rebalance the age pyramid (rejuvenation) and sex-ratio of the population;
- At least a 25% increase in territorial population, with a minimum of one new territorial pair to be established during the LIFE project;
- Sampling of 2-5 clutches in the wild for the ex-situ conservation of the genetic heritage, in order to generate a lineage partially descending from Corsican individuals for future reintroduction on the island;
- At least 20 Corsican mouflons (wild sheep) released for the creation/reinforcement of a new population nucleus;
- At least 40 shepherds supported to maintain their activities and herds in summer pastures;
- Creation of 3 to 5 new feeding plots so that, in the future, each bearded vulture occupied territory is equipped with 2 artificial feeding sites;
- At least 4 agreement protocols with target actors for collaborative management of Major Sensitive Areas (MSAs) in SPAs;
- 100% of the bearded vulture nesting sites in SPAs, by including in Natura 2000 sites the 8 nests currently outside the SPAs;
- Extension of 4 SPAs, for at least 6 000 ha of habitats favourable to bearded vulture and other European priority bird species;
- 2-9 local hunting teams to test lead-free ammunitions, with results communicated to others hunting associations;
- At least 30 post-mortem autopsies with extensive ecotoxicologic analysis of bearded vulture and/or sentinel species (e.g. golden eagle, red kite);
- 2 power lines identified as dangerous to be equipped with anti-collision beacons; and
- Ecosystem services conserved (particularly in terms of health) thanks to the bearded vulture’s carrion-eating diet.