Conservation Biology Group

Threats and solutions

Study on the situation of the Egyptian Vulture in the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range, centre Catalonia and Eastern Catalan Pyrenees

The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the smallest of the vulture species found in Europe, is found from Asia to the Middle East, the Mediterranean area and some areas South of the Sahara Desert, as well as some Atlantic isles such as the Canary Islands. This species is globally considered ‘Endangered’ by scientists, due to its populations became extinct or undergone fairly general decline in most of its former distribution. The Iberian Peninsula holds one of the most numerous populations in the World, but it declined a 25% between 19987 and 2000. For this reason, it is also considered ‘Endangered’ in Spain and it is included in the Annex I of the Birds Directive.

In Catalonia, after this species decreased between the 60s and the 70s, since the 80s and unlike what was globally observed in the Iberian Peninsula, the Egyptian Vulture increased its population, recolonized areas where it had disappeared some decades ago such as the Eastern Pyrenees, and colonized centre Catalonia and the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range where its presence was not known. This spread in Catalonia occurred in a context of important recent changes in human activities, such as the increase in urban and livestock waste (landfills), landscape changes (semi-extensive livestock, wildfires), and social changes (increase in consciousness about conservation issues).

In order to study the spread of this species in Catalonia, in 2012 the Conservation Biology Group of the University of Barcelona and the Grup de Naturalistes d’Osona (a naturalists’ association) began a cooperate monitoring of the population of Egyptian Vulture in centre and Eastern Catalonia, specifically in the counties called Vallès, Bages, Anoia, Osona, Ripollès and Garrotxa. The main target of this monitoring is to know the population status in this area, its evolution and the factors affecting this increase. At the same time, a population viability analysis will be carried out adding information of other areas such as the Berguedà and Solsonès counties thanks to collaboration of the naturalists Pere Aymerich and Joan Santandreu.

Tasks conducted in this study consisted on a census of occupied territories, obtaining the reproductive taxes and mainly the number of chicks flown, and ringing the chicks to know their movements and survival.  To face with these tasks, specific protocols where prepared for the observers consisting on monitoring the territories since the arrival of the adults in March until the flight of the chicks. The first monitoring task consisted on detecting the occupied territories once the adults have already arrived so this enables to have a census of territorial individuals. After this, reproduction in these territories was verified, and the number of chicks and the number of chicks flown were obtained by the observers. When the chicks were 60-days old, they were marked with a with a conventional metallic ring in one leg, and a red alphanumeric coded band (readable from long distances) in the other leg. During the ringing fieldwork, some chick feathers were taken in order to get information on their diet by stable isotope analyses, the same method used by the Biology Conservation Group to know about the Bonelli’s Eagle diet.

The first results of this monitoring allowed to detect the same 12 occupied territories each year, where 19 chicks flew of which 17 where ringed. The TV program El medi ambient by the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation issued a chapter about this fieldwork that you can see (in Catalan) clicking here.

All this fieldwork was carried out thanks to the collaboration of several naturalists such us Pere Ignasi Isern, Joan Fort, Grabiel de Jesús and Jordi Bermejo, rangers and managers of the Natural Park of Montserrat managed by the Patronat de la Muntanya de Montserrat, the Sant Llorenç del Munt Natural Park managed by the Diputació de Barcelona, the Consorci dels Espais Naturals del Ripollès, the Natural Park of the Volcanic Area of La Garrotxa, the Cos d'Agents Rurals and particularly the Grup de Suport de Muntanya. The Biodiversity Service of the Catalan Government also gave support and authorized the research tasks. Finally, we would also like to thank the  Catalan Ornithological Institute for giving support to this project. All this is an example of multipart collaboration that allows synergies to help an endangered species.
Members of the Grup de Naturalistes d’Osona (GNO) carrying out the monitoring of Egyptian Vulture nests. Photo: Carles Martorell (GNO)

Ringing fieldwork carried out by members of the Biology Conservation Group of the UB and the Cos d’Agents Rurals. Photo: Joan Real (Conservation Biology Group of the UB)

Egyptian Vulture chick with a conventional ring  and a red alphanumeric coded band (readable from long distances) in 2012. Photo: Francesc Parés (Conservation Biology Group of the UB)