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Conservation actions for Gypaetus barbatus and biodiversity in Crete (Gypaetus II)
Date du début: 1 juil. 2002, Date de fin: 30 juin 2006 PROJET  TERMINÉ 

Background The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) was once a common sight in mountainous areas of the Balkans. Its size (up to 2.8 m with wings spread) and peculiar feeding habits (it feeds chiefly on the bones of dead animals) distinguish it from other raptors. However, it has virtually disappeared from the other Balkan countries, where only a few individuals survive. In Greece, this species of vulture is the most endangered as there are only one or two isolated individuals left on the mainland and they are condemned to extinction, while the only breeding population survives on the island of Crete where the number of pairs has fallen to four and the number of individuals to around 27. The use of poison bait dealt a severe blow to the species in mainland Greece, while fragmentation of the ecosystem and uncontrolled opening and use of agri-forestry roads have increased the incidence of poaching and disturbance to wild life, causing a drastic reduction in populations on mainland Greece and in Crete. Two previous LIFE-Nature projects (the first between 1995 and 1996 by the NGO "Immediate Intervention for the Protection of Nature" and the second between 1998 and 2001 by the Natural History Museum of Crete laid the foundations for assessing the situation and protecting the species: one of the biggest achievements was the contribution to the designation of all the core areas of Crete where bearded vultures are found as special protection areas and wildlife reserves. Objectives This third project was designed to conserve the bearded vulture in Crete and manage the mountain biodiversity by supporting the local and prefectural authorities and promoting traditional agricultural activities. It is based on the management plans elaborated in the context of the previous project and on the experience acquired by the European network of LIFE projects for the bearded vulture. The major innovation was the attempt to set up a breeding stock for future reintroduction of the species and to increase the natural prey (reptiles and partridges) of raptors in general. One action that proved particularly positive for the success of breeding activity of the bearded vulture under the second project was artificial feeding. The project has gone hand in hand with an extensive public awareness campaign and actions to develop eco-tourism. Results Conclusions from the four year project indicate that the Cretan Bearded Vulture population has shown signs of recovery. Three new pairs were confirmed during the project period and juvenile survival rate has increased. Radio tracking of young Bearded Vultures and nest monitoring through the use of micro cameras generated a useful collection of information on disturbance and predation factors, behaviour and feeding regimes. These have been used to assist targeted conservation actions such as optimal timing for radio-tagging and when to provide fresh food for hatchlings. Artificial feeding proved to be the most cost effective management tool for conservation of the Bearded Vultures and seven feeding stations were established during the project, where six tons of food was deposited on an annual basis. The feeding sites enhanced population monitoring opportunities and benefitted a number of other vulture and raptor species. Natural foraging and nesting habitat conditions were improved by new watering points and a programme of breeding and releasing chukar partridges. Shooting & poisoning were identified as the main immediate threats with in-breeding highlighted as a longer term concern linked to genetic diversity. Results from the proposal to establish a breeding stock of young Bearded Vultures were not conclusive. The project aimed to rescue the second chick from breeding pair nests, since only the first chick normally survives. Project staff were unable to launch rescue activities since additional information on chick survival techniques was considered necessary before the breeding programme could begin. The project’s programme of public awareness was deemed successful, resulting in good practice guidance for farming and biodiversity conservation as well as education materials for local schools. LIFE beneficiary staff noted the improved collaboration between competent services and authorities, hunters and shepherds which has led to reduced incidents of illegal poaching. New footpaths, information centres and observatories were also introduced to manage public access.


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