In Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and English, the term “vulture” has two main meanings:
1. NOUN. RAPTOR WITH A WINGSPAN OF ABOUT TWO METERS, A BARE NECK SURROUNDED BY A COLLAR OF LONG, NARROW AND FLEXIBLE FEATHERS, A FULVOUS BODY, DARK FEATHERS WITH A WHITE STRIPE ON EACH WING, THAT FEEDS ON CARRION AND LIVES IN FLOCKS
2. A RAPACIOUS OR PREDATORY PERSON
Sadly, vultures are often stereotyped in popular culture as sinister or morbid. In a survey by BirdLife International, 75% of the respondents said that they thought of vultures as nature’s gravediggers.
Vultures do not deserve their bad reputation
Perched on top of the food chain, vultures are nature’s cleanup crew. Thanks to their carrion diet, they prevent the spread of diseases produced by decaying carcasses.
Vultures also help cattle ranchers, not only because they clean up the fields, but also because they eliminate the need for the treatment and incineration of thousands of tons of animal remains every year.
Thanks to this free cleaning service, we save millions of euros in waste management and avoid the potential emission of hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 per year, for the benefit of all.
However, vultures are disappearing.
Over the past 30 years, the number of vultures in West Africa has fallen by 95% outside protected areas.
75% of all vultures are spiraling towards extinction. 16 of the 23 species living on our planet are threatened.
In the 1990s, 99% of the Indian subcontinent’s vultures were wiped out. Little by little, populations in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Iran are recovering, but they are still nowhere near what they once were.
Most of the EU’s vultures -over 80%- are found in Spain, but Portugal and Italy also have significant populations. The species found here are principally Black vulture and Griffon vulture, but Bearded vulture can also be found.
In a world where vultures are threatened, the governments of Spain, Italy and Portugal, along with the EU, have a renewed responsibility to ensure the health of Europe’s vulture populations. They are currently failing in this task: Europe’s vultures are being menaced by the toxic threat of diclofenac, a veterinary drug that, though safe for humans and livestock, is deadly for raptors. In fact, diclofenac is responsible for the extinction of vultures in Asia.
There are comparably priced alternatives to diclofenac that are safe for vultures. Banning this dangerous drug in the EU is a matter of common sense and political will. It is possible.