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ARTIS Griffon vultures return to the wild

Today two young griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) from ARTIS will be sent to Sardinia where they will be released into the wild later this year. The birds hatched in ARTIS in April and May of last year. One of the chicks was raised by a pair of male griffon vultures. The other griffon vulture is the offspring of two vultures in Spain that were wounded in the wild and subsequently housed in ARTIS after their initial recuperation. 

The chicks fed on regurgitated food from their parents in the first three months after hatching, but are now independent. The two young griffon vultures will arrive in Sardinia tomorrow and stay at a refuge for a while. 

Conservation and reintroduction

By shipping the young griffon vultures to Sardinia, ARTIS is supporting a conservation project in Sardinia intended to maintain the native vulture population. The griffon vulture population began shrinking in the 1970s due to farmers leaving poisoned carcasses on their property in order to kill predators. Griffon vultures feed on carrion and thus fell victim to this practice. Since then, legislation has changed and the griffon vultures' natural environment has improved, while a number of reintroduction programmes have also started. Griffon vultures in Europe are now doing better. However, new threats to griffon vultures, such as being hit by vehicles when feeding on road kill or being wounded by electrical power lines, mean that protection is still required. The nature conservation project in Sardinia which will be receiving the griffon vultures from ARTIS contributes to this. 

Soaring on warm air

ARTIS has been home to griffon vultures since it opened in 1838. This is one of the four different kinds of vultures found in southern Europe, besides the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and the somewhat smaller Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus). The habitat of griffon vultures extends from southern Europe into Africa and far into Asia. An adult griffon vulture weighs about 10 kg and has a wingspan between 240 and 280 cm. They use rising warm air (or thermals) and rising air in mountainous regions known as ridge lift to achieve altitude. Their large wings are used primarily to soar, which means they hardly use any energy. 

Once griffon vultures have formed a couple, they will stay together for life in a monogamous relationship. At 4 or 5 years old, they start breeding in colonies on cliffs or in rocky hills, where a couple will hatch a single egg at a time.