A griffon vulture said to be the UK’s first ever captive-bred bird is being released into the wild.
The female bird, named Vicki, is now fully grown and is currently in the Vulture Conservation Foundation’s release programme in Sardinia.
Vicki was born in April at the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley, Yorkshire, following five years of trying to breed from a pair of disabled rescue vultures.
It is a landmark birth, after the species’ ancestors were made extinct in the UK before the 1600s - at least 400 years ago.
Falconer Charlie Heap and his colleagues built an artificial incubator into which they placed the pair’s newly-laid egg.
The parents were at first given a dummy to sit on but reared Vicki by hand from a week-old chick.
Vicki - who weighs 15lbs with an 8ft wingspan - is currently housed temporarily with other young birds in Sardinia, before heading to a release aviary later this year.
Mr Heap said: “I am staggeringly proud that she will now spend her life soaring over the Mediterranean hills.
“This really has been one of the highlights of my career. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two when this griffon vulture hatched in my hand.”
“Griffons are beautiful creatures.
“They have wonderfully long eyelashes and they’re extremely intelligent.”
Mr Heap said there had been several “near misses” before Vicki hatched.
He added: “We had a couple of near misses – vultures are clumsy and argumentative creatures.
“They argue over which of them is going to incubate the egg, then one of them steps on it and breaks it.
“Breeding from a one-winged male is very unusual, due to balance issues. We weren’t sure it was going to be possible. This is proper, front-line conservation.”
Vultures are among the world’s most threatened animals, with the majority disappearing from their natural habitat in southern Europe.