Swiss Foundation for Bearded Vultures

Swiss Foundation for Bearded Vultures -

For a long time, the bearded vulture – with a wingspan of almost three metres and piercing red eyes – was persecuted, before finally disappearing from our mountain landscape around 100 years ago. The Stiftung Pro Bartgeier (Swiss Foundation for Bearded Vultures) is campaigning to return this magnificent bird of prey to its former Alpine habitat.

Labelled a "child eater" and believed to attack lambs, the bearded vulture was extirpated from the Alps in the 19th century. There were various contributing factors: On the one hand, the food supply for this scavenger dwindled as pasture farming began to die out and the population of wild animals reached an all-time low. On the other, the bearded vulture was ruthlessly persecuted by hunters and trophy hunters.

The Swiss Foundation for Bearded Vultures, a charitable organisation, was set up in 1999, as a follow-on from the "Gesellschaft zu Wiederansiedlung des Bartgeiers" (Society for the Reintroduction of the Bearded Vulture), established in 1990. The Foundation aims to create suitable conditions for the reintroduction of the bearded vulture, to release birds into the wild in Switzerland and neighbouring Alpine regions, and to provide support for every aspect of the reintroduction programme. To achieve this, it works with diverse organisations and partners at home and abroad.

The bearded vulture is to be found in remote and rocky mountain regions above the tree line in Europe, Africa and Asia. It has silvery grey plumage with light brown or rust patches on the head, neck and legs. The long, pointed wings and wedge-shaped tail are distinctive. With a wing span of up to three metres, the bearded vulture is an accomplished flyer. It feeds on dead animals – or rather: its diet is almost 90 per cent bones. The bird drops the larger bones from a great height on to rocky slopes in order to break them.

Thanks to the successful reintroduction project, around 150 bearded vultures now live in the Alps, according to sightings – the actual population numbers are likely to be higher as it is barely possible to spot every bird.

Commitment to nature

Commitment to nature

Jürg Paul Müller, a biologist from Chur, is one of the foremost campaigners for the reintroduction of the bearded vulture to the Alps. The 69-year-old is passionate about re-establishing the bearded vulture – but he is committed to other causes too.

A bird's-eye view: bearded vultures in the Alps

A bird's-eye view: bearded vultures in the Alps

"The bearded vulture has a really calm way of approaching life – and that's what fascinates me," says Jürg Paul Müller. The biologist from Chur is one of those campaigning to resettle the bearded vulture in the Alps. Together with his team from the 'Pro Bartgeier' Foundation, he is making sure that these sedate birds, which were wiped out at the end of the nineteenth century, once more glide through our realms.