On May 16th an Egyptian Vulture chick was born in the botanic garden and zoo Zoobotánico Jerez. It is one of the few specimens of its species born in captivity. In fact, only its parents have managed to breed in captivity in Spain. The new Egyptian Vulture chick doesn’t have a name yet and its gender is unknown. When it grows up, it will probably travel to another zoo within the European captive breeding programme, as did the majority of its six older siblings born between 2003 and 2013.
Today we want to remember one of those siblings. Its name is Brandy and it was born in the Zoobotánico Jerez in June 2010. Short after coming into the world, it was chosen to accomplish a very special mission. Egyptian Vultures, just as the rest of European vultures, have seen their populations decrease dramatically in the whole continent throughout the 20th century. Nowadays, only Spain, the last bastion against its extinction, maintains a large population. However, the Egyptian Vulture population is being reduced year by year in the south and east of the country.
At the moment, the greatest threats Egyptian Vultures have to face are shortage of food due to the closing of rubbish tips, collisions with electrical power lines and wind turbines and, particularly, forbidden poisons and the authorisation in Spain of veterinary use of Diclofenac.
Brandy’s destiny was different from that of most captivity-born birds. When it was barely two months old it was enrolled in the Capovaccaio Programme and travelled to the Rapaci Minacciati Centre in Rocchette di Fazio (Italy).
The Egyptian Vulture is a migratory bird that travels to Sub-Saharan Africa each winter and returns to Europe in March in order to breed. Egyptian Vulture chicks are born in Europe, and when they learn to fly they migrate to Africa, where they stay for five years. After this time they are already grown-ups, and they return to their birthplace to raise their own chicks.
The Capovaccaio Programme benefits from the philopatry shown by Egyptian Vultures to try to recover the species in the south of Italy. The chicks are released in the place where it’s intended to establish a new Egyptian Vulture population with the expectation that they will acknowledge that settlement as their birthplace and return there to breed. Our chick Brandy travelled from Rocchette di Fazio to the region of Apulia, where it was introduced in a cave a few days before it was ready to make its first flights. Brandy’s destiny was freedom.
Brandy was accompanied by two Egyptian Vulture chicks which were born in the Rapaci Minacciati Centre. Their names were Sirio and Teo. In mid-August, the three of them made their first flight, and at the end of the month, Brandy’s step brothers made the leap to Africa. Our Brandy hesitated a bit more, and on September 10th it started its first migration. It was free.
Thanks to satellite transmitters attached to its body, its migratory route could be followed. On September 15th it left Sicily, arriving to Libya that very night. It flew more than 500 kilometres in a single day. After recovering its strength, it entered the desert until the south of Niger, where it settled.
In March 2015 Brandy was supposed to return to the south of Italy to breed for the first time. However, there is little hope that it will. Short after settling in the south of Niger, on December 26th, its satellite transmitter stopped emitting. Brandy is probably not alive anymore.
Brandy’s adventure was short, as are the adventures of many birds who live in freedom. However, Capovaccaio Programme’s reintroduction projects are one of the last hopes to recover many endangered species. Hopefully, some day one of Brandy’s siblings will take part in a reintroduction programme and manage to close the reproductive cycle by raising its own chicks in freedom.