Vultures thrive in Switzerland

The bearded vulture: A Swiss conservation success story Keystone
This content was published on August 11, 2014 - 15:52 with agencies

The Swiss bearded vulture population is having an excellent year, with eight vultures born in the wild and two captive-bred birds successfully released into the wild.

The stats come from the Swiss Foundation for Bearded Vultures and WWF. Bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) were first re-introduced into the Swiss Alps in 1991. However, it was only in 2007 that the first pair managed to breed in the wild. Since then the Swiss population has been increasing at a rate of two to six individuals a year.

Still widely known as the Lämmergeier or lamb vulture, the species was hunted to extinction in the Swiss Alps by the late 19th century. Farmers and shepherds saw it as a threat to their livestock even though the bird is more of a scavenger than a predator.

With an impressive wingspan of almost three metres, the bearded vulture is the largest bird in the Alps. It is known to drop scavenged bones from great heights to cause them to splinter, giving the birds access to the nutritious bone marrow.

The comeback of the species is one of the great success stories of Swiss conservation and the Swiss National Park, where bearded vultures were re-introduced for the first time in the country. The park celebrated its 100th anniversary on August 1 this year.

However, despite the good news a threat looms on the horizon. Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug responsible for the catastrophic decline of vulture species in South Asia has now been approved to be used to treat domestic animals in Italy and Spain where 80% of European vultures live. Vultures that feed on the carcasses of diclofenac-treated livestock die due to renal failure.

The drug could pose a real danger to the alpine bearded vulture population and potentially undo decades of conservation efforts. 

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