They eat horses, don´t they?
– Vulture blog number two from Montejo de la Vega, Castilla y León, Spain.
The same evening, Joachim Griesinger, German tour operator who runs the international nature travel agency ”Reisen in Die Natur” organises so that we can join Susi to bring up the next days’ pick-nick for the vultures: A big 500 kg horse and another couple of sheep. Susi’s real name is Jesús Hernando Iglesias, and he is the man in charge of the vulture restaurant, working here for the WWF Spain/Adena.
The horse had died from colic the day before and we joined Susi in his big WWF Spain/Adena branded Land Rover to pick up the carcass from the distressed farmer. He had tears in his eyes, explaining that he had loved the horse very much. His two daughters stood there beside, watching us winching the horse’s body into the hold of the trailer hooked up to the Land Rover.
Although probably no animal owner really wants to see their beloved animal to be torn apart by a flock of hungry vultures, there is a practical side and an economical side of this, which works magically well. Susi and WWF Spain are called out to come and pick up the carcass, and thereby solves both a practical transportation problem for the poor farmer, a sanitation problem for the village, and it solves the economic problem since it costs the farmer nothing! Otherwise he would have had to call the veterinary services and at own cost have the animal sent to an industrial facility far away, for destruction.
Instead, now both fuel and money are saved, less co2 emitted and at the same time the vultures are being fed.
In the farming industry, a lot of animals die, from many different reasons – animals that cannot be used for humans to eat. The problem has throughout the ages been solved by dumping the deceased critters in the bush somewhere, and the vultures or other scavengers quickly took care of the rest.
With more strict veterinary policies enforced from the EU, then dumping of animal carcasses have become more and more restricted. Finally, a few years ago, the dumping of dead animals was finally almost completely banned. Suddenly the vultures almost went out of business. Nothing to eat. Which made these Muladeros, the vulture restaurants, every bit more important. But now these too are questioned. If so, it will be the end of all vulture populations in the EU.
Is it really reasonable that every dead farm animal in Europe, that cannot be used by us humans, should be shipped by truck thousands of kilometres to an industrial destruction facility? Isn’t it just a terrible waste of resources in both ends? Isn’t it being a bit over the top zealuos about the whole veterinary thing? Look at the costs for it, the envirionmental issue of the emissions created, and the biodiversity issue of all scavenging birds then being virtually doomed to die out.
Vulture numbers have already dropped since the ban with about 30% in just these few years, and which is even worse - many vultures have stopped breeding. They are starving. Which is such a shame, since no disease has ever been proven to come from vultures eating dead animals. After all, this is a completely natural cleaning up process and a part of the ecosystem for millions of years. Transporting rotting carcasses all across the EU to ”take care” of the dead animals industrially, is not.
When industrial farming, which is a main reason for much animal disease already in the first place, finally gets struck by the results of its own practices, there are draconic measures taken, and if we don’t do anything about it, these magnificent birds may very soon be history.
Together with the carnivore- and raptor-watching industry that is just developing, which also needs to be able to put out something to eat for the animals.
The next morning we sit together with Joachim at ringside when over 300 vultures at dawn dig into the horse. After 5 hours the 500-kilo horse is a cleaned heap of bones. Many of the vultures are so gorged that they simply can’t take off, and instead have to walk off to the cliff edge and jump out into thin air from there.
A vividly fascinating part of the natural heritage that is ours to share, and yet another true Wild Wonder of Europe.
And one of the few ways of seeing it yourself up close, is through joining trips like the ones that entrepreneurs like Joachim Griesinger arranges.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.