Interview with Fulvio Genero about vultures in Italy

Date of the interview: 31 May 2010

In this interview Fulvio Genero talks about the current situation of vultures in Italy.

Fulvio Genero

Fulvio Genero

Markus Jais: Which vulture species do currently breed in Italy?
Fulvio Genero: All four species of European Vultures bred in Italy in the past. In the last century two species were extirpated (Bearded Vulture and Cinereous Vulture) and the others had a strong decrease, with the Griffon Vulture, becoming nearly extinct.
Thanks to reintroduction projects and conservation measures, actually 3 species are now breeding while the Black Vulture is only a very rare visitor.

Markus Jais: How has their population developed during the last decades and how many pairs are there today?
Fulvio Genero: The historical situation is different for the four species. The Bearded Vulture had a very dramatic history and disappeared completely from Sicily, Sardinia and the Alps, was probably also present in the Appennins. The decline began at the start of the 19th Century with the disappearance from the Alps (about 1920) and the major islands. Thanks to the reintroduction project in the Alps this species started again to breed in Italy in 1998 and currently there are 5 pairs and their numbers are increasing slowly.
The Griffon Vulture disappeared from all of the Italy except one small population which remained in Sardinia. Thanks to reintroductions the species is now present in 5 different areas with a total of about 80-90 pairs.
The Egyptian Vulture was present across most of Central and Southern Italy as well as the Maritime Alps. A rapid decline started from 1950. In the 1980s the Italian population was about 60 pairs, reaching 40 in the 1970s and about 10-12 pairs in the last years.
The Cinereous Vulture was present in the past in Sardinia and perhaps in Sicily and in the Apennines. The last nesting took place in Sardinia in 1961. In recent years there have been few observations, mostly involving birds released in France.

Young Bearded Vulture released in the Alps

Young Bearded Vulture released in the Alps. © Fulvio Genero

Markus Jais: Are there any reintroduction projects for vultures in Italy or are any planed for the future?
Fulvio Genero: The presence of vultures in Italy is mostly related with reintroductions projects done in the last 25 years. The presence of the Bearded Vulture in the whole alpine chain is the result of an international project started about 30 years ago. The Griffon Vulture was reintroduced in the eastern Alps, in central Italy (Abruzzo), in Sicily and in Calabria. Populations are relatively good in the north and central Italy, while in the other areas the number of birds is still low. In Sardinia, as I said before, the species never disappeared but reached a number so low that it was necessary to do some restocking programs.
Restocking was done also for the Egyptan Vulture due to the strong decline shown in the last decades.
Some projects failed because of poison and bad organization, like the reintroduction of the Bearded Vulture in Sardinia. The 3 birds released in 2008 died after few weeks because of poison.
Another 2-3 projects are planned for the future, with the aim to reintroduce the Griffon Vulture in new areas.

Griffon Vulture Reintroduction in Sicily

Griffon Vulture Reintroduction in Sicily. © Fulvio Genero

Markus Jais: What is the main food for the vulture species? How important is traditional livestock farming?
Fulvio Genero: The food availability for vultures is largely dependent on domestic livestock and feeding points. The Bearded Vulture, in the Alps, is using also wild ungulates and is able to leave without artificial feeding. For the Griffons feedings points are very important. In the Alps the birds depend nearly completely from the feeding point in autumn and winter while in the summer time they can find some food thanks to the traditional animal husbandry. Domestic livestock is more numerous in central Italy and even more in the south, specially in Sicily and Sardinia. In any case the traditional keeping of animals is decreasing and the amount of food available for vultures is also decreasing quickly. Feeding points in all Griffon Vultures populations in Italy are very important. Food is also decreasing for the Egyptian Vultures and some feeding points were established in the last year in Sicily and south Italy.

Markus Jais: Are there feeding places for the vultures like there are in Spain?
Fulvio Genero: There are feeding places for Griffons in all the 5 populations existing in Italy. As said, the supplementary feeding is very important in all areas, although their importance decrease from the north to the south. Unfortunately the number of feeding points is limited, there is 1 (sometimes 2) in every area. Until now we were not able to manage a bigger number of feeding points like in Spain and in France. We are working to establish other supplementary feeding points. There is everywhere a big potential availability of carcasses and there are actually no problems within the EU legislation.

Released Griffon Vulture with radio transmitter

Released Griffon Vulture with radio transmitter. © Fulvio Genero

Markus Jais: What are the main threats to vultures in Italy?
Fulvio Genero: The main problems in Italy are related with an increasing urbanization and the consequent decreasing of suitable habitats for these species. Best places are still in mountain areas (Alps, Apennines) but the number of threats is rapidly increasing everywhere. The greatest problem now, like in many other countries, are the wind farms. There are many wind farms in mountain areas (mostly in south and central Italy) but many other are planned also in very sensible areas for raptors and vultures. Other problems are related with the use of poison bites, that causes periodically episodes of mortality mostly in south and central Italy. Other problems are related with organizational aspects. It is very difficult everywhere to guarantee long-term efforts, carrying out long-term projects and securing adequate funding.

Markus Jais: How do you see the future for vultures in Italy? What must be done to protect them?
Fulvio Genero: For the reasons I spoke about, I’m not really optimistic for the future of the vultures in Italy. I hope the situation will improve for the Bearded Vulture in the Alps and to have good population of Griffons in some areas. For the Egyptian Vulture the situation is very difficult and not easy to change, also in relation with the problems of this species in whole Europe. In any case we must work hardly with big actions against the poison baits and to try to get a kind of development that respect the needs of such species (roads, electric lines, wind farms, disturbance). If we continue to build wind farms, like we have done in the last years, we will have few hopes to keep vultures in our mountains. Considering the conditions of the country in any case vulture populations must be strongly managed and helped to permit their survival.

Feeding point in eastern Alps

Feeding point in eastern Alps. © Fulvio Genero

Markus Jais:With the recent increase of Cinereous Vulture populations in France, how do you see the changes that Europe’s biggest raptor may become a breeding species again in Italy?
Fulvio Genero: According to historical information, the bird was definitely breeding in Sardinia and Sicily and probably in other Italian areas, but we have a lack of data here. I don’t believe we will have good possibilities in the short term for this species. We have already problems with our small populations of Griffons and until the situation gets better, it is probably not adequate to start with other projects with the Cinereous Vulture. In the last year proposals of reintroduction were made in Sardinia and Sicily. Thanks to the strong increase of Griffon and Cinereous Vulture in South East France we have now a concrete possibility to establish new populations of both species in the western Italian Alps.

Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experience with vultures?
Fulvio Genero: In the eastern Alps the Griffon Vulture was in the last decades a summer visitor, considered very rare. I remember my first encounter with this species in the Julian Alps (at the border with Austria and Slovenia) in 1978. I was on a top over 2000 m, and suddenly 3 enormous Griffons arrived from the sky, other 2 some minutes later. It was an incredible big emotion. Since that time I continued to follow the Griffon Vulture in the Alps discovering their movements and the most important areas for them. Markus Jais: Fulvio, thank you very much for the interview.

Further Information (Egyptian Vulture conservation project)

New vulture book: Vultures, feeding stations and sanitary legislation: a conflict and its consequences from the perspective of conservation biology