The Italian Almanac


Italian News - October 14

Two young Egyptian vultures born in captivity have travelled thousands of kilometres south since being released in southern Italy earlier this year. The two sisters, named Barbara and Arianna, were born in May in a Tuscan bird sanctuary, and one has already made it to a wintering ground in western Africa.

Taken from their parents at the end of July, the pair were equipped with recognition rings, containing a microchip and tiny radio able to transmit signals to a special satellite system. The fledglings were then transferred to a specially prepared nest in southeast Italy, equipped with food, water and a TV camera, in order to avoid contact with human beings. They remained in the nest for around a week as part of an acclimatization process.

Experts also hope this phase will have "imprinted" the nest in the minds of the sisters, ensuring their return to the same spot next spring, as happens with birds born in the wild. Following this stage, they were released from the nest for their early, uncertain flights. Over the next two weeks, the fledglings began flying higher and further, although they continued returning to the nest for food.

On August 23, they decided to set off on their winter migration for Africa, a journey that has been followed every step of the way by the Argos satellite. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which has overseen the project, their trip south has proved a fascinating source of information. For the first time, experts have been able to trace the precise route followed, where the birds stop en-route, and their final destination.

Although Barbara is still waiting in Sicily for favourable winds to carry her across to Africa, Arianna has already completed her journey. After flying for nearly 4,000 kilometres, she has settled in the west African country of Mali, not far from Timbuktu.

In Italy, the Egyptian vulture is seriously threatened with extinction. It was still relatively common in the 1960s, with at least 40-50 breeding pairs reported in Sicily alone. Since then, it has been wiped out by hunters, by attacks on its nests and by illegal campaigns to poison foxes and wolves, whose carrion it feeds on, WWF experts explained.

The release of captive-born fledglings to the wild is part of a WWF project to bring the bird back to Italian skies.