April 23, 2021

Manuel Aguilera: The man who loved the vultures | Society

Manuel Aguilera: The man who loved the vultures | Society

If the story of Manuel has made you think and you also want to help this cause to change the world


As a child, Manuel Aguilera used to hide in the bowels of a dead cow to see how the vultures devoured the carrion. That unconditional love towards the necrophages cost him a typhus and a couple of fevers that almost killed him.

When he grows up, he keeps watching the vultures daily, takes care of them, feeds them and even talks to them from the scree Santa Cilia de Ponzano, in Huesca, where the bearded vulture also awaits his turn to crush bones with the help of gravity. A show that receives thousands of visits a year and serves as an excuse to call attention to a repudiated bird and another in danger of extinction.

When Manuel showed his curiosity among those viscera there was only one couple of you break -As he calls them- in the outskirts of the Aragonese Pyrenees. Seeing her was a challenge within the reach of very few. Today, up to 10 families of Gypaetus barbatus They catch the thermals that climb the Sierra de Guara to look for the leftovers left by their brothers the ugly vultures before going to the Monegros. It's not by chance. Manuel has given his life to the care and recovery of all these scavengers with the help of his Friends of the Vulture Fund.

Manuel Aguilera is a peculiar and endearing character that you love at first sight as he loves his vultures, a sack of self-taught wisdom based on experience. "Manu, that of the vultures", an original type even to be born. He came to the world on December 31, 1952 at 12 o'clock at night in his house in Binaced (Huesca). Since he was a child he played hide-and-seek with vultures and his parents' scolding for coming home smelling guts. He tells it while the voice of emotion breaks when he remembers his first great admirer, his mother, who died when he was only 13 years old.

The vulture is not a vermin

Manu comments on the filming food that historically myths and legends have disguised as a demon to what is only a scavenger. His reputation has always been in tatters. "And they are not dumb animals. They are vultures and ready, "he keeps repeating.

The vulture is to the tail in the list of Iberian animals that represent the faunistic mark of our country; list surely headed by the lynx and the bull. But nevertheless, according to SEO / BirdLife, 90% of all European vultures are found in our Iberian Peninsula, with some species even in danger of extinction, such as the Lammergeier. The vulture is a noble and clever animal, allied to the ranchers, who cleans the fields decomposing everything that swallows and that protects the aquifers from contamination and infections. "If you shake hands, he gives you his respect and affection," says Manu more emotionally. That's just why we should start thinking about changing our priorities.

The man who loved the vultures

But in the lost villages of the Pyrenees, stories of you break stealing piglets and lambs, from vultures poking at wounds of cattle and shepherds. Death, ignorance and fear have always muddied his image. "When I was in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, in South Africa One of the villagers told me that he had seen a vulture taking a baby. Surely it was a lie. They are very slow and scary birds and rarely hunt. But myths and legends also cross borders. "

And that is one of the great legacies of Manu. The disclosure here and in Africa. Nobody from Barbastro to Jaca looks bad at the vultures, and less the farmers. There they are all an institution, a way of life more, a great economic impact for the region that competes with the canyoning and the multi-adventure tourism of the Sierra de Guara. With a difference. Ornithological tourism is more respectful, more considerate with the environment. While some are going to climb, to play, others just come to watch, to learn. "At first there were few people. Now with social networks everyone knows it. In 2016, almost 5,000 people came. Last year, 4,000. At 50 euros per person left by the tourist in the area, is this wealth or not? "Manu tells us proudly.

The excuse is the vulture

Manuel puts on his old blood red raincoat so that the birds recognize him from above, he wears his welder's gloves and proudly pushes his electric truck full of entrails and recycled hooves from nearby butchers. With it, he takes the path of the scree and there he receives his friends in a kind of ritual that has been repeated day after day for decades. Sometimes with public; the most, in strict solitude.

The reception is spectacular. More than 50 specimens approach and surround him. "Today they are few, they must be in the Monegros," he says worriedly. They recognize him, they eat from his hand (and only from his hand) and they start to snort and bump peaks and claws against the stones looking for food in a kind of ceremonial dance that impresses. Manuel speaks to them by name, invites them to eat and laughs when bitterness is bitter or when they are frightened by a movement of our camera: "Crouch! No one should stand above them, they cow up and leave, "he warns. He can do whatever he wants, he has earned it after 30 years coming.

The sound technician records the flutter of several specimens when the flight is over: "The noise they make is impressive," he says. And it has an evolutionary explanation. Vultures are not hunters, they can afford to make noise, their feathers are noisier and more compact and are designed to push more air, not like those of the owl, which you can not hear even a meter away. Things you learn with Manu.

Halfway through the work you discover that the griffon vulture is an excuse. Manuel does the same with us as with tourists. Let us be impressed by the show, by the force of nature. It is all a function, a wake-up call to put the focus on conservation and respect for the natural environment. Manu is here today for something else:

Manuel, distributing food for the vultures in the 80s.
Manuel, distributing food for the vultures in the 80s.

– Here he comes! She looks like a baby, "Jessica Beard shouts looking at the sky. Jessi is a partner today of work and responsible for Museum of the Vulture of Santa Cilia de Ponzano.

"No, he's an adult," says Manu convinced.

An immense lammergeier of more than three meters in span makes a couple of passes looking for and waiting to eat. If there are vultures does not go down. If you see people do not go down. We are very lucky to be able to contemplate it so close. "Today I brought 100 kilos of carrion, 80 were bones and 20 of meat. For the griffon vultures this is an appetizer. They do not need it, "Manu reveals. And he's right: a griffon can eat up to a kilo of meat in just 60 seconds; the break he has to crush the bone to eat it. Yes, the bone is eaten and not just the marrow. Another thing learned today.

The conservation work of Friends of Vulture Fund today focuses more on the Lammergeier, the griffon vultures and their feeders are the claim, a protected natural wealth that must be respected and taken care of but not in danger. Although it has not always been like this. With the mad cow disease the muladares disappeared by law in 2005 and the population of vultures fell by 50% in Spanish territory. Fortunately, in 2009, the European Union rectified and authorized the 'Supplementary Feeding Points', such as the five currently maintained by the Friends of the Vulture Fund, the great work of Manu and his traveling companions: "I spend a lot of money on the conservation of vultures. I do not want anything in return. I just want to see them. And that they continue seeing them ".

Manuel Aguilera is a media character created intelligently to focus attention and resources, a type that they sell picturesque but in reality has a much deeper discourse: "Human beings treat living beings as machines […] This is a closed globe, everything we do here will affect us as well as us. "

In the end, your life project is not so much the scavengers as the commitment and coexistence with all the natural environment, constant learning and disclosure in respect to other living beings to try that the vultures do not end up being us.

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Content adapted from Manuel's video


Manuel Aguilera has lived fascinated by vultures since he was nine years old. With the mad cow disease, the population fell by 50%. Manuel decided to create the Fondo Amigos del Buitre in Huesca and increased the growth of the vulture population in Spain. Currently develops projects in Spain. The Gambia and South Africa


I was nine or ten years old when my grandfather took me to throw a dead animal in the dunghill. Well, I saw those big birds and I stayed … and I said "Ugh, this is bigger than I imagined".


And at age 12, I decided to go looking for him, I did not think they were vermin.


I became the weirdo of the town, I was not going to play soccer with all the boys, my world was the dunghill to know which beings survived with this energy that had died.


There are some species that we have marked with a cross. With the vultures I decided one day to bring them to light and take away that bad image. They have always kept the fields clean to avoid illnesses, but, nevertheless, in the 21st century, with all the technology in the world, we have sent them to unemployment.


The vultures are very sociable, they are very intelligent, because if not, with all the crap we have done to them, they would have become extinct.


When I met my friend David Gómez we decided to create the Friends of the Vulture Fund, a way to get together the people we love vultures, who we liked, and work for them selflessly, and I do not want anything in return, I just want to see them, follow them seeing.


It's my soul, it's my spirit, is not it?


About 12 or 14 years ago we made the House of Vultures because there was a demand for tourism. We have five feeders, because to dedicate one to tourism nothing would happen. At the same time we would give life to the area; what was once seen as a vermin produces wealth.


We have managed to teach that the vultures were not as bad as they were painted and that they were not persecuted and killed.


This is a closed ball, a closed balloon, everything that we do here will affect us as well as us, we have to take care of the whole planet, it is the only house we know.


And my mother said to me: "It's just that, Manu, the stork came, he brought a vulture to a nest and he missed this stork, he did not know where to leave that vulture, so he changed your skin, he put on a human skin and left you at home, that's where this comes from. "


My passion and my world and my life are the birds and this planet, my house.

This content has been developed by Yoigo.


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