There are now around 2000 breeding pairs of Griffon Vultures (Griffon vulture) in the Pyrenees, the Massif Central and the Alps.
The species was thought to be extinct between 1940 and the late 1960s after being persecuted by hunters and farmers who left out poisoned bait.
At the time, it was believed that vultures, in addition to eating dead animals, also killed them.
Yvan Tariel, of bird protection organization the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO), told The connection: “It was by chance that two ornithologists came across what were probably the last two breeding pairs in the Pyrenees.
“Once they identified them, they launched a campaign to save the species, and it was protected in the early 1970s, just before the 1976 law that laid the foundation for the existing protected species laws. today.
The campaign was successful, as a group led by Mr. Tariel undertook to reintroduce them to the Massif Central, where the birds had not been seen since the 1940s.
The first attempts failed, until a new method was used.
“We built a very large bird cage and kept the vultures there until they formed breeding pairs”
“After we managed to raise a batch of eggs, we released them and they were immediately able to adapt to become wild again.”
The other three varieties of vultures in France, all found in the Pyrenees, are: the black vulture (monk vulture), reintroduced in 1992; the bearded vulture (Bearded vulture), reintroduced in the Massif Central in 2012; and the Egyptian vulture (Egyptian vulture) which returned on its own after the reintroduction of other species. All three are still in danger.
“They are fascinating creatures,” said Tariel, who has studied vultures for 30 years after researching game hunted by large birds.
“Griffon vultures, when they see an animal carcass, eat only the muscles and soft flesh, the bearded vultures eat the bones, the black vultures the hard skin and tendons, and the Egyptian vulture specializes in collect the pieces that others have left behind. .
“Nothing is wasted. You end up with a site with signs of trampling but no dead animals. One of the problems with maintaining healthy vulture populations is that, until recently, herders were forced to remove dead animals and have them removed by hunters.
“This meant that we had to have feeding sites, but in reality they weren’t needed because farmers would ignore the knacker requirement,” Tariel said. “Now they have permission from the prefectures to leave the animal carcasses.”
Vultures can have a wingspan of over two and a half meters, and they now present spectacular displays for hikers.
Recent research on African vultures has also finally solved the mystery of how they suddenly seem to appear out of nowhere – which has given them an ominous reputation in some parts of the world.
Scientists have shown that they fly very high, up to 10,000m in Africa, while scanning the ground for food and keeping an eye out for other high-flying vultures, which may be found up to 40 km away.
When a vulture sees food, it dives into it. Any observing vulture sees the first bird make its movement and in turn flies towards the food, setting off a chain reaction in the birds that had observed it.
“European vultures don’t need to fly that high – they go up to between 2,000 and 3,000 meters – but have the same mechanism,” Tariel said. “I saw about 200 vultures appear quickly on a carcass, seemingly out of nowhere.”
Now that the hunting and poisoning of vultures is prohibited, one of the main dangers for them is electrical cables.
They can be killed both by flying at them and by being electrocuted.
The LPO and EDF are working to have wires with markers in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths.
“You used to receive postcards with hunters wielding dead vultures as trophies,” Mr. Tariel said. “Thank God those days are over.”
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