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Rewilding Portugal Confirm New Breeding Colony of Cinereous Vulture

Rewilding Portugal have reported that a colony of cinereous vultures has settled in the Malcata Reserve, in the northeast of Portugal.

In the Greater Côa Valley, Rewilding Portugal – a conservation organisation supported by The European Nature Trust – is working to improve the health of the Iberian ecosystem. They are restoring natural processes, such as herbivory, predation and scavenging, to control the landscape as nature intended. The return of the cinereous vulture is an early indication that Rewilding Portugal’s efforts, in partnership with local conservation organisations, are paying dividends.

The Cinereous Vulture
Cinereous vulture with open wings. Aegypius monachus

The cinereous vulture is one of the most endangered scavenger species in Iberia. In the entirety of Portugal, only about 40 breeding pairs are known, distributed in two main colonies in the Tejo International Natural Park and in Alentejo. In Northeastern Portugal – where Rewilding Portugal are working to restore living landscapes – only two couples were known: one in the Douro International Natural Park; the other in the Malcata Reserve. The discovery of more couples in Malcata highlights the significance of the Malcata Reserve as a breeding ground for cinereous vultures in Portugal.

The recovery of the cinereous vulture population is critical for the regulation of the Côa Valley ecosystem. Vultures are scavenger species: they recycle carrion throughout the ecosystem and help prevent the emergence of novel diseases, which could pose a threat to sensitive wildlife populations. Their large wingspans allows them to make gliding flights of tens or hundreds of kilometers, using their excellent eyesight to spy carcasses from a distance.

Continuing monitoring efforts

So far, Rewilding Portugal have confirmed three cinereous vulture nests. The discovery of the nests was possible thanks to the tracking of the movements of a juvenile that was tagged by Rewilding Portugal with a GPS/GSM transmitter on the 26th of November, in collaboration with CIBIO. Rewilding Portugal, through their monitoring work, aims to obtain more information about the spatial ecology and habitat-use of the cinereous vulture. Their monitoring will track the impact of rewilding actions on vulture populations (such as increasing wild herbivore numbers, introducing semi-wild horses and promoting the licensing of Private Areas for Feeding Scavenger Birds – where local landowners can gain licenses to leave out corpses of ruminants to support the recovery of vulture populations).

There are three species of vulture currently inhabiting Portugal: the Egyption, the griffon and the cinereous. All but the griffon are at risk of extinction. Rewilding Portugal are carrying out monitoring work to assess the impact of rewilding on all three native vulture species.

The Wild Côa Valley
Land abandonment in the Faia Brava reserve and Rewilding Europe area, Portugal

The Greater Côa Valley, formed of varied dehesa, montado and sierra landscapes, is one of the wildest areas of Iberia. River gorges jut out across the landscape; patches of oak forest remain; and rocky heathlands mix with native grasslands to form a rich mosaic of landscape types.

The area is home to charismatic species, including Griffon and Egyptian vultures, Imperial eagles, otters, pond turtles, and much more. Thanks to their habitat restoration work, Rewilding Portugal is increasing the stability of the ecosystem: their efforts to diversify the vegetation structure on abandoned agricultural lands is allowing rodent and rabbit numbers to increase, improving the prey base for the Iberian lynx.

Roe deer and red deer – having contracted in range over the centuries – are now once again expanding into their former territories, improving hunting opportunities for the Iberian wolf. In time, this will reduce the predation of domestic livestock by wolves, improving coexistence with predators and local communities.

Rewilding Portugal

The European Nature Trust supports Rewilding Portugal in their rewilding efforts.
Learn more about Rewilding Portugal and how TENT supports their work
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