Tierpark Animal News

The call of the wild

Bearded vulture from Tierpark Berlin returns to Andalusia.

In Berlin on Wednesday, 5 July 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping were welcoming two famous black-and-white newcomers to Zoo Berlin. At around the same time as the red curtain was being raised on the two pandas, a box was being opened some 2,500 km further south in the Andalusian nature reserve of Sierras de Cazorla. The box contained a bearded vulture named Cleo, who hatched at Tierpark Berlin on 17 March 2017. Almost four months later she clapped eyes on her future home for the first time. This is a wild, mountainous landscape of rugged cliffs, deep ravines, high plateaus and pine forests. It is also home to ibexes, eagles and griffon vultures.

Cleo stayed in an aviary on her rocky outcrop for four weeks. Then, on 6 August, the thrilling moment arrived when she spread her wings and glided down the mountainside for the first time. The human observers were delighted, and hugely relieved, as the journey leading up to this occasion had been long and hard. The young vulture started her voyage to Spain in late May. “Originally, we planned to release her in mid-June,” says Dr Martin Kaiser, bird curator at Tierpark Berlin, “but shortly before that, she injured her wing on an initial flight attempt and had to rest up for several weeks.” Finally, in early July, Cleo was taken to the release site. Once there, she had to be content with admiring the view from the safety of a large aviary for a few weeks until her wing was fully healed.

Bearded vultures in Andalusia

In the mid-1940s, Andalusia was still home to many bearded vultures. But in 1986 the last one in the region was killed. The species was deliberately wiped out by local humans. In Spain at that time, all animals that were believed to have a negative impact on agriculture or hunting were considered vermin – and that included vultures. In the meantime, people have recognised the vital function bearded vultures serve for the local ecosystem. By consuming dead animals, they “clean up” the area and prevent the spread of disease.

“Fifty bearded vultures have been released into the wild in Andalusia since 2006,” says Zoo and Tierpark Director Dr Andreas Knieriem. “In the whole of Europe, a total of 270 of the birds have been set free.” Conservation experts monitor each and every vulture, and their hard work has paid off: in 2015, a bearded vulture pair hatched young in the wild for the first time since the Andalusian reintroduction programme began.

In 2016, bearded vultures Lucky and Charlie said hello to the Alps

Last summer, young bearded vultures Lucky and Charlie made the journey from Tierpark Berlin to the Austrian Alps. Their mission: to enhance the genetic diversity of their species in the region and thus make an important contribution to the international bearded vulture Alpine reintroduction programme.

This May, former Berliner Lucky independently embarked on a European tour, taking in Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Belgium, France and the Netherlands – where he got a glimpse of the North Sea. He even paid a flying visit to his country of birth: the most northerly point on his tour was the Harz mountains in Germany.