Marathon runners of the sky
Dr Darcy Ogada
Rüppell’s Vultures are the marathon runners of the sky. They soar over huge distances to find their favourite meal of carrion. When they arrive at a carcass, often together with White-backed vultures, they can strip a carcass bare in a matter of minutes. They are such highly-evolved scavengers that no other animal can match their efficient removal of flesh from a carcass. This means that without Rüppell’s and other vultures, carcasses can lie uneaten for days, and there is a much greater chance of the spread of disease.
Over the last 30 years Rüppell’s Vultures have disappeared from the skies of East Africa. Although they can still be seen in most game parks, their numbers have declined dramatically due to poisoning. Poisons are often used by pastoralists to kill predators, such as lions and hyenas that have attacked livestock. Rüppell’s and other vulture species are the unintentional victims of such poisonings because they often arrive first at carcasses and in large numbers.
If you are lucky to see a Rüppell’s Vulture it will likely be on or near a carcass. They are very charismatic birds as they fight off their mates in order to get a space at the carcass for a quick meal. They frequently bite and wrestle each other. Sometimes you may also see them lounging near a waterhole in the afternoon as they like to bathe frequently.
You can contribute any sightings of Rüppell’s Vultures or other raptors to the African Raptor Databank http://www.habitatinfo.com/african-raptor-databank/. The Databank is a citizen-science project that aims understand the conservation status of African raptors and their habitats.
Darcy Ogada, The Peregrine Fund Africa Program