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Griffon Vultures Starve in Aragon

Local Officials Incorrectly Interpret EEC Law

Starvation of Griffon Vultures in Aragón, Northern Spain

With a wingspan of 250 centimetres and a weight of some 6 kilos Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus are one of the biggest birds living freely in Europe. They breed in colonies on ledges of huge rock walls and during the daytime wander up 300 kilometres in search of food: carcasses of dead animals. They can eat the flesh in minutes, just leaving the clean bones.

The problem

The about 20,000 Griffon Vultures who are living in Aragón (N.Spain) can't find enough food to raise their young. Hunger obliges them to get closer to farms to get food. They enter farms to eat recently dead animals, placentas where sheep etc. have lambed and even seem to attack weak animals. Hundreds of sheep have already died from fear of attacking Vultures and farmers are becoming afraid for themselves of Griffon Vulture attacks. On the other hand, more immature Griffon Vultures were brought into rehabilitation centres in the autumn of 2006 than ever before. Lack of food made them so weak they could be caught by hand. Without help many of them certainly would have died and it is unknown how many individuals have died in the fields. Low Breeding Success

Less than half of the usual population of Griffon Vultures from the important colonies of Riglos and Guara made breeding attempts in 2007, because most of the adults are too weak to produce eggs. It is expected that even those attempting to breed will raise no young at all because of lack of food. Other scavengers such as Lammergeyer (Bearded Vulture), Egyptian Vultures and Black and Red Kite face the same problems, all are protected and endangered species, figuring on European Red Lists. The Griffon Vultures are suffering from some other important problems. Many windfarms built in the last few years in Aragón work as a slaughterhouse for Vultures. Between 2000 and 2006 almost 1,000 Griffon Vultures were found dead at just five of these windfarms in the Zaragoza provinc alone. Electrical wires produce an unknown number of kills. Another important cause of death is the use of poisoned baits to kill foxes and wandering feral dogs. This illegal practice has recently spread in Aragón, as in many parts of Spain, and is causing unknown but certainly important death tolls of all kind of scavenger birds.

About 80% of the European population of Griffon Vultures are breeding in Spain. Aragón, which includes the central Pyrenees, is one of the strongholds of the species. Since Griffon Vultures became protected, populations have grown enormously. National counts in 1979, 1989 and 1999 showed that the Spanish population doubles in less than 10 years. Figures of 1999 showed 22,455 breeding pairs for the whole of Spain. Aragón counted for 25% of this population. Birds from Aragón have been used for reintroduction programs elsewhere in Europe, eg. in Italy. Few recent counts on breeding Griffon Vultures in Aragón are available but their downfall is obvious: Griffon vulture nests and breeding success in the Pyrenees of Aragón.Origins of the Problem

Since October 2005 the autonomous region of Aragón, situated in the North of Spain which is about the size of Belgium and Holland together with about 2.3 million inhabitants, introduced a new law which makes it impossible to put animal carcasses at the ´Muladares´. ´Muladares´ are the traditional places around the villages where farmers bring their dead animals to be eaten by Vultures and other scavengers. In Aragón traditional livestock farming (mostly sheep and goats) is still important and cows wander freely during the summer months in the high Pyrenees. In the year 2000 at least 200 traditional ´Muladares´ were in regular use, all are closed today. With this new law (DECRETO 207/2005, de 11 de octubre, del Gobierno de Aragón., published in BOA number 128 the 28th of October 2005) the Aragón government suddenly stopped the essential food sources for Griffon Vultures and other scavengers. As all traditional ´Muladares´ were closed, no new measures for artificial feeding were taken or even thought of.Protests

Hungry Griffon Vultures and their presumed attacks on ill and weak livestock has been a hot item in the Aragón newspapers for the last year. The ‘Farmer’s Association’ as well as ‘Nature Protection’ explained they didn't agree with the way the new law has been introduced. The regional Minister (´Consejero´) of Agriculture of Aragón Mr. Gonzalo Arguilé, responded the problems were ‘exaggerated’ and ‘no dead animals at all may be left in the field´ (newspaper Heraldo de Aragón, 31-01-2007). This is contrary to European Commission decision which mentions scavenging birds as a legal method for destruction of dead livestock. The Aragón Government have started working on the introduction of some ten new artificial feeding sites, ´Muladares´, which in future will be supplied with garbage of slaughter-houses.

Reality and the future

The feeding of leftovers from slaughter-houses on artificial ´Muladares,´ organized by the Government of Aragón can by no means be sufficient for all the birds who feed on dead animals in the region. As long as the regional Government of Aragón does not take the problem seriously and use the European Directive, as can be done in this case, young Griffon Vultures will starve to death on their nest and full grown exhausted individuals will be picked-up being unable to fly anymore. Attacks on weak and ill livestock at farms will continue to occur. It is important to point out that the COMMISSION DECISION of 25 November 2005 amending Decision 2003/322/EC as regards the feeding of certain necrophagous birds with certain category 1 material, published in the Official Journal of the European Union 26.11.2005, has been written especially for situations as we find it in Aragón; it reads:

In order to improve the availability of food to endangered or protected species, it should be ensured that carcasses of bovine [and at least 4% of carcasses of ovine and caprine animals] intended to be used for feeding are tested prior to that use and show a negative result for any danger to the birds, in the TSE monitoring programme carried out in accordance with Annex III to Regulation (EC) Nº 999/2001´.

It has to be added that by transporting mixed carcasses in ordinary, uncooled trucks, where temperatures rise to over 40 degrees Celsius in summer is increasing the risk of spreading animal deceases instead of decreasing it. We already noted that municipalities are not willing to authorize artificial feeding sites on their grounds that these risks contamination.Conclusion and solution

Our conclusion is that the Aragón Government is not acting according to the letter of the law nor to the spirit of the European COMMISSION DECISION of 25 November 2005, which speaks about improving the availability of feed to endangered or protected species. It is astounding to see how the EU spends millions on reintroduction programs and LIVE-projects for endangered bird species, such as the Griffon Vulture and the Lammergeyer, whilst their populations are seriously threatened by the decision of a Regional Government. From the point of view of food for the Griffon Vultures and other scavenger birds, it is important that traditional ´Muladares´ are re-opened. Instead of closing this ´Muladares´, a decease in controls on carcasses as mentioned above can take place; such a system has already been adopted by France and the nearby Spanish Region of La Rioja. In combination with traditional ´Muladares´, some artificial feeding-sites could also be established. The Farmer Association agrees that all traditional ´Muladares´, where needed, should be re-opened as allowed by the European Commission.

This article was submitted by: Independent experts on Vultures and scavenger birds; Wil Luiijf, FFF@antenna.nl [Fast Forward Foundation, the Netherlands], Kees Woutersen, keeswoutersen@auna.com http://www.birdingpyrenees.com the Fondo Amigos del Buitre (FAB), fab@fondoamigosdelbuitre. org http://www.fondoamigosdelbuitre.org and Alvaro Camiña, acamia@vodafone.es [biologist and investigator]

Fondo de Amigos del Buitre (FAB) is an NGO in Aragón which keeps on fighting to prevent the 20,000 Griffon Vultures of Aragón from starving to death. We ask other organizations to help by writing a letter of support to: fab@fondoamigosdelbuitre.org. We apriciate articles in newspapers and magazins on the subject to make the problem know to all. Please send us a copy so everybody in Aragón can see how other Europeans think about it.

4th July 2014