22 June 2023

30 British red kite chicks have been given expert health check-ups from ZSL wildlife vets before they travel to Spain as part of ongoing work to recover the Spanish red kite population

During their check-ups, the birds received a full medical examination from the expert team – including having their heart, lung, skeletal and muscular health checked, their wingspan measured, and a small microchip carefully placed under their skin to help conservationists monitor them once they are in their new Spanish home. 

Red kite being weighed as part of health checks
Red kite having mouth health checked

Why are wildlife health checks important? 

These health checks, carried out by the ZSL Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance team (DRAHS) are essential to conservation efforts. Moving wild animals from one location to another - a process known as translocation – can be an essential part of conservation. It can allow conservationists to reintroduce a species back to their historic range, or mean that an existing but declining population can be given a boost by the careful introduction of new animals.  

When moving animals however, we inevitably translocate both the individual and their parasites. Many of these parasites are harmless – or can even be essential to health. There is however a risk that the animals will bring with them some less welcome parasites, which can induce diseases previously unseen in these new habitats – posing a threat to their new neighbours.  

Red kite held by ZSL wildlife vet
Red kite flying - identifying fork tail clearly visible

The DRAHS team work to overcome this risk, supporting numerous translocation programmes both in the planning stages and through careful health monitoring of species both prior to their release and afterwards. Through the red kite health checks, the team work to ensure that not only are the birds in the best shape possible prior to their release, but they also try to ensure that they won’t be taking any unwelcome diseases to their new homes.  

Red kite conservation 

In the 1980s, the British red kite population was limited to just a small handful of individuals in Wales, following years of poisoning and shooting affecting the population. Now, British red kites are well on the road to recovery – all thanks to a series of reintroductions of kites from Spain and Sweden.  

Wildlife vets use stethoscope to monitor heart health of red kite
Red kite being weighed as part of health checks

Now, the Spanish population that helped boost British red kite numbers is struggling due to poisoning and a lack of food: the recent red kite health checks carried out by DRAHS vets are part of a 3-year project to bolster the population, like they did for the UK.  

Over the course of the 3 years, 90 British-born red kites will be reintroduced to Spain in the hope that they will breed and regrow the country’s population. These health checks mark the 2nd year of the programme run in collaboration with the RSPB, Natural England, The Boughton Estate, Forestry England, the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Acción por el Mundo Salvaje (AMUS) in Spain.  

Red kite calling in a meadow
Red kite flying low over farmland

The chicks will be joining last year’s cohort of 30 birds that were successfully translocated to their new home in the remote Spanish mountains.  

British red kites are now soaring through skies across the country, and this successful conservation work shows just how well nature can recover through science-led conservation. As the descendants of the Spanish kites brought to the UK 30 years ago return to the country, the team are working hard to ensure that Spain’s red kite population have a similar success story.  

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