One of a pair of young bearded vultures released into the German wild more than 100 years after their disappearance has been found dead.
Female bearded vulture pair Wally and Bavaria were released into the wild in the Berchtesgaden National Park in southern Germany last summer.
The species – Gypaetus barbatus – had disappeared from the area more than 100 years earlier.
But Wally failed to return from her first major trip over several hundred kilometres to the Zugspitze – Germany’s highest mountain – in mid-April this year.
And now bones, feathers and a transmitter have been found in an inaccessible gully at an altitude of 1,500 metres.
The find was made by a climbing team from the Bavarian Bird Protection Society (LBV) after the transmitter unexpectedly gave a brief signal.
LBV chairman Norbert Schaeffer said: “We always knew that setbacks like this could happen, but we are saddened by Wally’s passing.
“It is part of nature that a bird dies, but of course we would have wished her a long life as a bearded vulture.
“Even if there is now sad certainty, we are glad that we at least don’t have to grope in the dark about her whereabouts.”
The cause of Wally’s death is unknown but is under investigation.
Possible causes mooted by the LBV include collision with cable car cables, poisoning with hunting ammunition containing lead, being shot illegally, an avalanche or a fight with a golden eagle.
Wally was considered more domestic than Bavaria, who has flown as far as the Austrian capital Vienna and is doing well.
The pair are reported to have had a large following, with many following their trips and keeping up to date with the search for Wally in the wake of her disappearance.
The LBV will soon release two more young bearded vultures into the National Park to support the eastern Alpine population.
National Park project manager Ulrich Brendel said: “Wally’s fate underscores the need for reintroduction projects to be long-term.
“We are therefore looking forward to the forthcoming release of two more young bearded vultures in the wild in the Berchtesgaden National Park.”
With a wingspan of up to 2.9 metres (9 ft 6 in), bearded vultures are the largest breeding birds in the Alps.
They are harmless to humans and other animals and only eat carrion.
The species is categorised as near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.