A juvenile griffon vulture raised in captivity took its first tentative wing flaps into the wild this past weekend after caretakers from the Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo released it from an aviary in Sardinia as part of a European conservation program called Life Under Griffon Wings.
With low population numbers throughout Italy, the introduction of any young griffon vulture into the ecosystem is worthy of celebration, yet this individual is particularly famous thanks to its unique parentage.
Hatched in May 2017 in the Artis aviary, the young vulture was attentively and expertly raised by two bonded, gay male vultures.
“We found an egg on the floor of the aviary, and we saw that no other vulture was taking care of that egg,” notes a narrator in the zoo’s video. “So, we decided to give the egg to them. And not only did the chick perfectly hatch with them, they took care of that chick for the next 3.5 months like proven parents.”
Another chick was also born last summer at Artis to a heterosexual mated pair who were rescued after being injured in car collisions.
After only a few short months of maturation, both juveniles were transported to a temporary aviary in the Sardinian Porto Conte regional nature park, where they spent the next several months acclimating to their new surroundings alongside 12 other griffon vultures from a captive breeding program in Spain.
On April 13, the aviary doors were opened for the first time. According to the zoo’s reports, one of the two Artis youngsters quickly exited the enclosure and began flying freely in exploratory circles. The other hesitated a bit before joining in.
“After that, we could see the vultures floating above the area – a truly magnificent sight,” stated Artis director Rembrandt Sutorius, who traveled to the park to witness the release.
The young scavengers-in-training will now be fed carcasses within a fenced region of the park to ease their transition into the wild, and eight of the 14 birds have been equipped with satellite trackers to give the Life Under Griffon Wings researchers better insight into their life history after they reach full independence.
Though griffon vulture populations have rebounded in some areas, the large bird species has struggled to recover in Sardinia following decades of inadvertent poisoning by locals. In an effort to deter would-be livestock predators, many farmers in the region used to leave out poison-laced meat that was then consumed by scavenging vultures.
The practice has since been banned, yet as of 2013, prior to initiation of the reintroduction project, only 30 wild vultures remained on the Italian island. Currently, the most pressing current threats to the species are car collisions and electrocution from power lines.