March 4, 2021

Vulture stalking frightens farmers | Society

The vultures are hungry and they mitigate it by attacking cattle at delicate moments, such as births, sometimes killing the offspring and the mother when they are still alive, farmers say. The conviction that this is the reality has taken root in the sector, which asks the Administration for measures. "We have nothing against the recovery of the vulture population, but we need their food to be resolved efficiently for both parties," says Agustín Miranda, president of the Agrarian Association of Young Farmers (ASAJA) in Ciudad Real. The farmer admits that the animals have to be injured or in a situation quite complicated for the scavengers to decide to jump on them.

The solution, adds Ramón Santalla, Secretary of Livestock of the Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA), it would be to allow the dead animals to be left in the field "as was done before the mad cow crisis" or to narrow more spaces for muladares – closed feeders where carrion is deposited for the ghouls – and improve their management. Currently, the most common is to take out insurance, which collects the animal when it dies to incinerate it. "Except for the bodies left in areas authorized by the autonomous communities, but they are the least," he says. In addition, there is a regulation to use the muladares that requires a prior permit and meet sanitary requirements. “The problem is that it has not been applied well, some communities have approved the muladares recently and others like Madrid, Galicia or Murcia have not even done it yet,” protests Nicolás López, SEO / BirdLife species manager. In 2018, it was estimated that there was in Spain a colony of griffon vulture of 31,000 couples, 17% more than a decade ago.

Scientists disagree with the description made by farmers about the behavior of scavengers. "It is impossible, because neither from the morphological nor evolutionary point of view a vulture can prey, it does not have the claws or the necessary beak," says Antoni Margalida, a scientist at the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC). "In more than 90% of cases the animals have died before, as evidenced by subsequent analyzes," he says.

Yes it can happen, he admits, that in case of a complicated birth in which the womb is left, when the vultures are lowered to consume it, the death of the animal is accelerated because it is very weak. In any case, "it is normal for the farmer to interpret that they have killed him." In most of the complaints received, the owner of the farm has seen that the cow was fine before giving birth, but when he returns they are eating the vultures, “which does not mean that an attack has occurred, the animal may have died before due to complications of childbirth ”.

Vultures and storks in the landfill of Ávila Norte.

Vultures and storks in the landfill of Ávila Norte.

Something that happened a few days ago when Margalida was marking vultures in Oñate (Gipuzkoa). “There were problems with a mare about to give birth, we had to remove the foal by stretching. Was dead. At 20 minutes, the mare expired and the vultures appeared. If it is not there, they could have been blamed, ”he says. "We would have to keep an eye on the cattle," he says.

Antonio Donázar, a scientist at the Doñana Biological Station and an expert on vultures, believes that food is not the problem. In general, there is much in the countryside, with wildlife and what they find from cattle. “It is true that they are getting closer to livestock farms. But, although it seems the opposite, this does not imply that they are more hungry, but that it is a simple food source. When they can, they tend to get crammed, because they don't know if they are going to eat the next day, ”he explains.

The scavengers get food from the remains of the montería in hunting season, in winter and in autumn. In spring and summer, their diet is aimed at deer carcasses or wild roe deer and those found from livestock. They are attracted to farms where cattle are reared intensively (in ships) because of the possibility of feeding on the bodies that are deposited in containers. There are birds that live in the Pyrenees and move to Extremadura, to the farms. "They compensate for the trip, they fill up and then they can spend several days without eating." A vulture can endure a week without food and, in certain circumstances, up to two.

In the landfill

Outdoor landfills, such as the Waste Treatment Center of Ávila Norte, have become another resource exploited by ghouls and other birds. It is junk and dangerous food, but very easy to obtain. The stork that was dying in the middle of the access road to the dump last Wednesday is one of the victims of this way of life. "The other day was a vulture, before another stork … a continuous drip," says José Aguilera, a member of the Azálvaro collective, dedicated to the protection of scavengers. He does so while pointing to the culprit, a power line located where the birds enter. Meanwhile, the vultures, indifferent to the risk, look from the top of a mountain grounded in garbage.

In the search for organic matter, birds consume plastics that can cause them asphyxiation, gastric obstruction or poisoning and damage their metabolism, says Aguilera. "The vultures have faced a shortage of food due to the obligation to remove the bodies of ruminants from livestock in the field, to which is added the absence of a balanced network of muladares ”, describe. As a consequence, a large number of ghouls are forced to take advantage of landfills. And while the vultures fly hundreds of kilometers to find food, the farmers ask scientists and Administration to "pay more attention to the one with the problem."

The trap of highly humanized areas

The scientists marked 30 vultures in the Sierra de Cazorla and 37 adults in the Bardenas (Navarra). The surprise came when they found that in two years of study, 12 copies had died in Navarra. In 2018, three more have fallen. “Something creepy,” describes José Antonio Donázar, a researcher at the Doñana Biological Station. On the other hand, in Cazorla there were only three deaths: 4% compared to 20% in the north. Given the situation, they hypothesized that death would skyrocket if the vultures ate intensive livestock (in ships). They identified more than 11,000 feeding points and found that the Navarrese birds had eaten in the Ebro Valley, in highly humanized areas with farms, mostly pigs. Those of Andalusia, on the other hand, foraged in “acceptably natural” places, with a very high proportion of food associated with wild animals, to monteria.

The researchers crossed this information with the human footprint, a variable that evaluates inhabitants, infrastructure, use of electrical energy … Thus they concluded that the humanized areas of the Ebro Valley are an ecological trap for vultures. There is a lot of food with farms that shed dead animals, and the vultures perch or lay in rafts.

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