The Instituto de Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) has returned to wildlife 21 juveniles of the harrier (Circus pygarus), as part of the Emergency Plan for the Recovery of the species as it has been at risk since 2021. migratory species that nests in Portugal, the Alentejo region being one of the most important for its reproduction.
In 2011, in the Special Protection Zone of Castro Verde, it was estimated the presence of 214 breeding pairs of the tartaranhão-caçador species. In 2021, in the same area, the presence of only 50 couples was recorded, according to data from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF).
“These figures indicate a decrease in the number of couples in Portugal of approximately 75% in the last 10 years, which reaches 85% in the Alentejo. , which are causing a very sharp decline of the species, which could mean its disappearance in Portugal”, explains the ICNF in a statement.
It was due to this critical situation of the species that the Emergency Plan for the Recovery of the Harrier in Portugal was initiated, coordinated by the ICNF. The objective is to prevent the extinction of this species in Portugal, through ex-situ (outside the wild) incubation of eggs to ensure their survival and increase the number of juveniles that enter the population in the wild.
“The emergency plan began in March with the prospection and location of colonies and nests in hay production areas by CIBIO/BIOPOLIS – Center for Research in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources”, says the ICNF. He adds that the choice of this date coincides with the nesting of the Hunting Eagle, a species that puts eggs, hatchlings and sometimes adults at risk. Olga Martins, director of ICNF in Alentejo, also points out that “the moment an adult of this species leaves the nests, leaving the eggs there, it will not return”.
The species rescue process
In March, the eggs were subject to constant monitoring so that the incubation was carried out at an adequate temperature and humidity and that the success of hatching was maximized. “After birth, in the same center, the process of feeding the offspring began, which took place in cycles of four to five daily meals in an air-conditioned environment until they could be transferred to the acclimatization facilities to the natural habitat (“hacking”)” , explains the ICNF.
It was for this reason that the facilities at Herdade do Vale Gonçalinho, owned by the League for the Protection of Nature (LPN) in Castro Verde, were built specifically for this purpose in a natural environment. The first cubs were transferred to this location in June, with approximately 30 days, so that they could be prepared for their return to nature, which took place successfully on Tuesday.
“We plan to return another eight specimens soon and we estimate that, by the end of the year, 30 Harriers will return to the wild”, says Olga Martins. She adds that this will be an ongoing process and that the Plan will continue to work with different entities to save the species. “It’s a species that is in danger of extinction,” she concluded.
A plan with several collaborations
The Emergency Plan for the Recovery of the Harrier was coordinated by the ICNF, in collaboration with the LPN and the project “Searas com Biodiversidade: Salvemos a Águia Caçadeira”. This project includes other entities, such as CIBIO/BIOPOLIS, ANPOC – National Association of Cereal Producers, Palombar – Conservation of Nature and Rural Heritage, the Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) and the Center for Research in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO).
For this result, ICNF adds that the support of various entities, such as companies, farmers and citizens, was equally essential. “Farmers, in particular, were essential. Although they had a very low production in these years, a factor that we always took into account when they helped us, they always tried to mow away from the nests. nests on their land”, says Olga Martins.