Endangered guardians of health

© Juan Manuel Hernández López
© Juan Manuel Hernández López

They need dead animals to survive and so they don't have the most positive reputation among humans. But in fact vultures are helpful guardians of health. By removing decaying carcasses they play an important part in the balance of Nature. They are among the largest birds in Europe with their wing span of 2.8 metres and are also among the rarest and most impressive Falconiformes.

What are the threats to vultures in Europe?

After centuries of persecution by humans in 2002 a fresh problem for vultures emerged with the introduction of the EU Regulation 1774/2002 laying down health rules on animal by-products not intended for human consumption. For from this point on it became illegal for livestock farmers even in the remotest mountain regions to hand cadavers over to Nature by leaving them lying. Particularly in the mountain regions of Spain this led to great  problems for bears and vultures – for whom an important source of food disappeared.

Where is EuroNatur at work in the interests of Vultures?

Working jointly with the Spanish Nature conservation organisation Fapas, EuroNatur is focussing on the Cantabrian Mountains in Spain to improve protection for the Griffon Vultures and Egyptian Vultures (a.k.a White Scavengers) living there. Both species are critically endangered in Europe.

What actions are EuroNatur and Fapas taking for the protection of Vultures in the Cantabrian Mountains

  • Securing their food supply: In “The Valley of the Bears“ carcasses of horses and other domestic animals are laid out at a feeding station.
  • Helping to improve the image of vultures: through intensive educational outreach we are working to make it clear that vultures are essentially guardians of general health in the wild.
  • Preserving habitats: we are implementing a raft of measures to preserve the Cantabrian Mountains as a habitat for vultures. Read more on this here

What we have so far been able to achieve - a selection of important successes:

  • In 1987 Fapas achieved the banning of the use of strychnine in the Cantabrian Mountains. Up till then this poison was freely available at a pharmacy and was used against wolves and vultures. Today there are no longer any products containing strychnine freely available at a pharmacy. This decisive step was an important contribution to preserving the vulture population in the Cantabrian Mountains.
  • The attitude to vultures of the majority of cattle farmers, arable farmers, vets and even the  security forces in the Cantabrian Mountains has changed perceptibly. They now see the birds as useful helpers, keeping the mountains free of carcasses and  disease and they show willingness to support the preservation of  this bird species.
  • With the results of our study and concrete suggestions for changes we succeeded in convincing the European Comission to revise the regulation out of concern for species  protection. In April the EU Parliament passed a revised version of the 1774/2002 regulation.
  • Griffon Vultures and White Scavengers now regularly use the feeding station in “The Valley of the Bears”
  • Since the beginning of Fapas' work the populations of Griffon Vultures and White Scavengers in the Cantabrian Mountains have significantly increased.

Partner: Fapas (Fondo para la Protección de los Animales Salvajes, Foundation for the Protection of Wild Animals)

Sponsoring: Heidehof Foundation and EuroNatur-donors


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