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Griffon vultures from ARTIS released into the wild

Last weekend, two young griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) from ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo were released into the wild on Sardinia. After some hesitation, one by one the birds left their temporary aviary, spread their wings and soared into the sky. 

They joined a group of twelve other vultures that had been released and went on to explore their new environment. The released birds hatched in ARTIS in April and May of last year. One of these chicks was raised by a pair of male griffon vultures. The other is the offspring of two griffon vultures from Spain that were wounded in the wild and subsequently housed in ARTIS. While their injuries meant those birds could not be returned to the wild, their offspring is now living freely in nature. ‘A very special moment for ARTIS,’ says ARTIS Director Rembrandt Sutorius.

Director Rembrandt Sutorius accompanied the vultures to Sardinia and opened the aviary from which the birds were released. ‘After that, we could see the vultures floating above the area – a truly magnificent sight.’ ARTIS is contributing to the re-introduction of griffon vultures in this region in order to restore the population to its former level. As scavengers, they play an important role in the ecosystem and the circle of life. Sutorius: ‘Vultures eat dead animals, which makes them nature’s clean-up crew. By taking part, ARTIS is supporting the wildlife conservation project Life Under Griffon Wings in Sardinia, which is aimed at maintaining the native griffon vulture population.’

Step by step

Young griffon vultures typically leave the nest at around three months of age, at which point they can fend for themselves. The two chicks from ARTIS had already spent several months in Sardinia, living in an aviary to get used to their new surroundings. In order to introduce them to the wild step by step, in the first period they will continue to be fed carcasses in a fenced area in the Parco Regionale di Porto Conti.

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The griffon vultures are leaving their temporary aviary in Sardinia and soared into the sky. Photo ARTIS, Ronal van Weeren

Conservation and reintroduction

Griffon vultures began to decline in number in the 1970s due to farmers leaving poisoned carcasses on their property in order to kill predators. The griffon vultures, being scavengers who feed on carrion, fell victim to this practice. Since then, legislation has changed, the protection of the griffon vultures’ natural habitat has improved, and there have been a number of reintroduction programmes. 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. Especially on Sardinia, where a 2013 population count found only 30 pairs.

As part of the wildlife conservation project Life Under Griffon Wings, which includes the vultures from ARTIS, a total of sixty animals will be released, divided into three groups. This location was selected by the umbrella organisation the Vulture Conservation Foundation following consultation with the griffon vulture breeding programme coordinator at the ESB (European Stud Book). 

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