Sardinia’s griffon vulture makes comeback because of carrion cafés

Europe’s griffon vulture population had declined from 1000 in 1952 to a colony of 100 near Bosa in Sardinia by 2015. The stark drop in population size was due to eating corpses of foxes and other animals illegally poisoned by farmers. Further, about 20 years ago the option of eating abandoned cow carcasses disappeared because of mad cow disease which forced farmers to burn the bodies.

Griffon vulture
Griffon vulture. Image by birgl from Pixabay

Sardinia, in 2014, copied a practice which is carried out in France and Spain in which farmers create vulture restaurants or carrion cafés. These are carcasses of dead animals placed in the corner of a farm (because they smell so much) surrounded by electrified fences to keep out dogs and wild boar.

The reason why wild boar are kept out and away from the area is because they tend to stick around and eat crops. And the reason why farmers don’t want to attract dogs is because they can pick up a parasite from the innards of sheep that they eat and pass this parasite onto humans.

Farmers like the idea of carrion cafés and they want the griffon vulture to be around because it helps to get rid of dead livestock which they would normally have to transport to incinerators at a cost. Nature’s way is more efficient and highly cost-effective.

Griffon vultures have a wingspan of up to 9 feet. Fiammetta Berlinguer, a veterinarian at Sassari University said, “The pens have to be put at the far corner of farms because of the smell.”

She also explained that 15 vultures can eat through a sheep carcass in about 60 minutes. A cow takes about a week. Of course, the carcasses have to be drug-free. In Asia this scheme poisoned countless numbers of vultures because a veterinary drug, diclofenac, was in the carcasses.

In Sardinia the number of griffon vultures has risen to 270 with 63 being brought from Spain and Holland. Also, harriers, kites, eagles and buzzards are feeding on the carcasses.

Thirteen pairs of Egyptian vultures have also been seen in the area. There are hopes that their numbers will rise. Vultures do a good job for the community despite sometimes having a bad reputation. Berlinguer said that they “do an important job by creating a circular ecology, reminding us that in nature, nothing gets thrown away.”

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