Friday, July 23, 2010


I write today of the Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus (yes of course I speak Latin – Pax vobiscum – Et cum spiritu tuo) – or in Spanish the Alimoche.

On June 10 an Egyptian Vulture was born at Jerez zoo but the news was only released this week after it was determined that it was faring well in its new environment. The reason for that will become apparent in due course.

The Jerez councillor for the environment and sustainable development, África Becerra, said “this birth is a great success for the Jerez botanical zoo. I send my congratulations to all the team that has worked from day to day to obtain these positive results.”

The Egyptian is a small vulture (58-70 cm in length, weighing 1,6 -2,5 Kg), white in colour with dark under feathers and a yellow head. They breed in southern Europe and winter in Africa. The population in Spain is around 1,500 pairs - the last major grouping of these birds in Europe and they have endangered species status.

In recent years the population in Spain has dropped by 25 per cent with illegal poisoned bait being one of the main causes –much of this bait is used to control waste dumps. The loss of prey such as rabbits has also taken its toll as has collisions with electricity cables and the wind generators that may be environmentally friendly by defile the countryside.

In Andalucía, where the Egyptian Vultures were frequent in the past, there are just 34 breeding pairs the majority of these are in the Sierra de Cádiz. As they like to nest in mountains and rocks this is an obvious location. They reach a breeding age at four to five years and can live to 45.
Whilst the birds are kept in numerous zoos they reproduce in captivity rarely which makes the Jerez chick of major importance.

The first birth in Spain was in 2003 and involved the same pair of birds at Jerez zoo. Since then although the birds have hatched chicks on two occasions they have both died within days hence the decision not to announce this latest birth until some time had passed.

The new chick has now passed the critical stage, has been ringed and checked by vets. Visitors to the zoo can see the young vulture via a special camera on its ledge with its parents. Once it reaches adulthood the vulture will be sent to another European zoo to be part of their breeding programme.

When I sit on the terrace of my Jimena de la Frontera home Leonardo vultures often fly by at almost eye level. As I grew up on Westerns with vultures circling the desert I at first found this rather disconcerting. I have seen them circle over the group of old men who sit on the wall by the plaza de la Constitución and wondered if they a checking to see who is next to fall off his perch. I have also noted with alarm them giving me the beady eye. Still I live on in hope that the far rarer Egyptian Vulture will one day pass my way.

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