Following the illegal shooting of the young reintroduced Bearded Vulture Dolomie in France this autumn, the bird lost his life at just seven months old, causing a significant blow to the reintroduction efforts of the LIFE GypConnect project in France. An investigation launched shortly, and now, LPO (Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux), in collaboration with the gendarmerie, launches a call for testimony to help identify the perpetrator.
Call for testimony for Dolomie
After retrieving the carcass and determining the cause of death, LPO filed a criminal complaint regarding this atrocity, which is an offence punishable by three years imprisonment and a fine of €150,000. These acts cannot go unpunished. Within the framework of the investigation, a call for testimony has launched to help the investigators identify the perpetrator of the shootings. Please contact the gendarmerie at 04 66 45 00 07 if you have any information.
Worryingly, this is not the first time that a Bearded Vulture has been a victim of an illegal shooting in the Grands Causses and France. Europe, another young Bearded Vulture, released in the Grands Causses in May 2019, was found dead on 4 October of the same year, and the investigation is still ongoing. Layrou, released in 2013, had also been the victim of a deliberate shooting in the Lot in June 2014. Finally, Benigno, a 14-year-old individual marked in Spain in 2000, was shot dead on 26 November 2013 in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
It is incredibly concerning and troubling that direct persecution/illegal shooting still poses a threat to this rare, threatened and protected species in the region.
The hunting associations need to work towards eradicating this criminal behaviour, and the police and the judiciary must properly investigate and prosecute these grave crimes. Experience from elsewhere (Spain) suggests that heavy penalties and prison sentences are a powerful deterrent to mitigate this environmental crime.
The Bearded Vulture Dolomie was part of the pan-European efforts to bring back this rare species to its former range. The vulture hatched on 12 March 2020 at the Tierpark Zoo (Berlin), which is part of the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network, coordinated by the VCF on behalf of EAZA's European Endangered Species Programme (Bearded Vulture EEP).
The LIFE GypConnect project team released Dolomie on 13 June 2020 in Aveyron in the Grands Causses alongside three other Bearded Vultures as part of the efforts to establish a breeding population of the species in the Massif Central through reintroduction and promoting dispersal movements between the Alps and the Pyrenean populations. Since 2016, the project released a total of 33 Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and the Pre-Alps. Dolomie managed to spend nearly four months exploring his new home in the wild, but unfortunately, his life was short-lived.
Detecting Dolomie's carcass and cause of death
On 11 October 2020, the project team received alerting GPS data and swiftly started to search for Dolomie, leading to the discovery of his carcass in Lozère, in the Cévennes National Park.
The team quickly retrieved the carcass to perform a necropsy and toxicological analysis following the appropriate protocols. The X-ray showed 15 shot pellets in Dolomie's body. These pellets did not affect internal organs, but caused the individual to fall, resulting in substernal haemorrhage, haemopericardium, perforation of the intestine and a small bone fracture. Therefore, the bird died as a result of the internal bleeding.
Bearded Vultures, and vultures in general, are allies of the public rather than a problem and deliver valuable ecosystem services that add value to France's and Europe's ecosystems. The criminal actions of a few cannot jeopardize the important work done to bring back this important species to areas where it went extinct in Europe. The authorities must carry out a proper investigation to persecute the preparator(s) and achieve some justice. As for the VCF, we will continue to work together with our partners to advocate about the importance of vultures and work alongside many stakeholders, including hunters, to reinforce our conservation work in Europe.
Led by the League pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), the LIFE GYPCONNECT project aims to establish a breeding population of Bearded Vultures in the Massif Central and Department of the Drôme. Releasing captive-bred Bearded Vultures into the wild at sites such as the Parc Naturel Régional des Grands Causses, Parc Naturel Régional des Baronnies Provençales and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors will create a core population that will connect the two populations of the species in the Alps and Pyrenees. To facilitate movements between the new population and the Alpine and Pyrenean populations the LIFE GYPCONNECT team is creating a network of supplementary feeding stations, and tackling threats such as poisoning, and collision and electrocution with the electricity infrastructure.