Thursday, May 16, 2013

Scavenge, savage, scavenge

Ever since the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) became a protected species in France in the mid-1970s, farmers have complained that conservationists have upset the balance of nature. From 20 pairs, their numbers have increased to 500 pairs, and rather than scavenging carrion they have begun to attack live sheep, cows, and horses. Especially vulnerable are animals giving birth, since the birds – whose wingspans can reach 9.2' (2.8 m) – go after newborn and placenta. Farmers are prevented from shooting them and forced by EU regulations to burn the carcasses of any dead animals, so the vultures do not have enough to feed on. The controversy about the protection of the birds has reignited this month, due to an unfortunate incident that has gained international attention. A 52-year-old woman was hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains with 2 friends when she fell to her death from a 1,000' (300 m) cliff. By the time her body was recovered less than an hour later, she had been reduced to a skeleton by the vultures. "There were only bones, clothes and shoes left on the ground," reports Major Didier Pericou of the gendarmerie. Under stress because of the lack of food, the vultures have fanned out across Europe and become decidedly more aggressive, although the conservationists still insist that it is the birds that are under threat and not livestock. Frenchman M. Fourtine concludes, "Vultures are like ecologists. You need a few but not too many."

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