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Volunteers praised for saving endangered vulture

A team of volunteers have saved an endangered bearded vulture and her chick in the Alps by supplying food after the father bird was killed.

They combined fine detective work, unconventional thinking and walked many kilometres as well as climbing heights to save the gypaète barbu, one of only about 130 pairs in France.

The father – whose wingspan reached up to 2.8m – had flown into a high tension cable and been killed but park rangers at Parc National de la Vanoise in Savoie saw from its plumage that it had been helping incubate a chick and realised the mother would be left alone to both raise the gypaéton  and find food.

Bearded vulture parents take turns guarding the nest and hunting for food and the rangers feared the mother could not do both.

They discovered the male was one of a pair near Peisey-Nancroix and had a month-old chick, which was vulnerable to predators and hypothermia being high up in the mountain.

Bearded vultures eat mainly bleached carcass bones and will often drop bones on to rocks from a height to break them up, so the volunteers and rangers decided to try to offer similar food in sites near the nest.

Made up of local residents, members of the LPO bird protection society and other volunteers they gathered bones and cartilage from the slaughterhouse at Bourg-Saint-Maurice and left it at sites around the nest... before then mounting guard to make sure other predators did not grab it.

Peisey-Vallandry and Peisey-Nancroix ski stations also loaned a caterpillar vehicle to make it easier to take bones up the mountain and the effort was so successful that the chick and its mother are now out of danger, and they have been able to stop the feeding.

Eva Aliacar, director of the Parc National de la Vanoise, thanked those involved saying they had worked tirelessly to save both mother and chick.

She said: “We are overjoyed at the results of this wonderful piece of solidarity in action to ensure this chick’s survival, but we mustn’t forget this species is still endangered and our efforts to protect it must be long-term.”

Survival depends on people avoiding disturbing them and on cables for power lines and ski lifts being fitted with beacons and tags to reduce the risk of birds flying into them.

There are around 100 pairs of  gypaète barbu in the Pyrénées and eight in Corsica. Twenty have been reintroduced into the Alps.

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