Bearded vulture species protection project

Cooperation since:2012
Conservation status on the Red List:near threatend
Location of conservation projectAustria

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The bearded vulture was once native to almost all the mountains in southern Europe and in the Alps. Its 3-meter wingspan makes it the largest bird in Europe. Although the bearded vulture is a harmless carrion and bone feeder, legend has it that it has swooped down on chamois and lambs and even snapped up children. The misnomer “lamb vulture” stuck. This led to ruthless pursuit, and in the early 20th century the species became extinct in the wild.


As has so often been the case, zoos were the institutions that helped ensure the survival of the bearded vulture as a species. Successful breeding and research at the Alpenzoo Innsbruck provided the impetus for an international joint reintroduction, which was kicked off with the release of the first young vultures in the Hohe Tauern National Park in 1986. Since then about 200 young bearded vultures have been released from zoos and breeding stations in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland. These have successfully produced offspring of their own.

Chicks born in zoos have to learn how to survive in the wild. The nestlings are released in small groups in well-protected artificial eyries when they are 3 months old. They are fed by specialists, whereby any direct contact is avoided. The birds form a bond to the respective location and later return to found their own brooding territories. After 4 weeks the young fly off and become true wild birds without any further outside support.

All the birds are equipped with transmitters, and their wing or tail feathers are bleached in order to help keep track of them in their new lives. This simplifies observation and yields valuable insights for subsequent releases, especially with regard to ensuring a broad genetic mix. This is accompanied by efforts to educate the public about the benign nature of these majestic birds of prey and to provide comprehensive information about the project.


The project is far from completed. In fact, major efforts are ongoing to reintroduce a sufficient number of zoo-born birds, to monitor the bearded vultures inhabiting the Alpine region, and to keep the public informed about the positive roles this species plays.

Schönbrunn Zoo supports the project with:

  • captive breeding
  • expert knowledge
  • public relations work

This is what our project staff member has to say:

Regina Riegler, animal caretaker at Schönbrunn Zoo: It’s a great feeling to be able to participate in this reintroduction project, especially because our efforts of the past few years have been rewarded: these majestic birds are actually breeding once again in the Alps. This is a perfect example for what can be achieved when everyone works together towards a common goal and supports the good cause.”

This what our partners have to say:

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, sponsor of a Schönbrunn bearded vulture: “It affords me great pleasure to sponsor tiny ‘Gerlinde’. It’s incredibly important to give these beautiful animals a chance to live a life in freedom. I’m proud to be supporting such a project," says the renowned mountaineer and sponsor of the young female bearded vulture ‘Gerlinde’, who hatched in Schönbrunn Zoo and was reintroduced in the French Western Alps.