Monday, 11 November 2013

Vulture rescue

It is well known that in October most years hundreds of Griffon Vultures congregate in the Sagres area at the south-west tip of Portugal.  Recently there was a report of 740 birds seen between Sagres and Vila do Bispo and this is not exceptional.

These birds arrive at the extreme point in mainland Europe and find themselves with nowhere left to go!  By taking advantage of updrafts and making use of rising columns of warm air vultures can sustain flight for long periods without even flapping their wings.  However, they can’t cope with long flights over the sea.  If they want to go to North Africa, Sagres definitely isn’t the place to set off from.

Griffon Vulture

Eventually, perhaps partly driven by hunger, the vultures head east from Sagres.  The shortest crossing to Africa is, of course, at Tarifa in Spain, across the Strait of Gibraltar, and that would certainly be a more sensible departure point.

During the last two days several hundred Griffons making this adjustment to their migration route have passed close to Tavira.  We have enjoyed the same spectacle in previous years at this time, on one occasion even watching them directly over the town.  Unfortunately, with insufficient food available around Sagres to sustain hundreds of birds, some become tired and weak and it isn’t unusual for a few individuals to require help.  Only a few days ago one of the local newspapers reported that two had been rescued by the police and taken into care and it happens every year.

Taken into care means being taken to RIAS (Centro de Recuperação e Investigação de Animais Selvagens), the wildlife rehabilitation and investigation centre of the Ria Formosa, located at Quinta de Marim, near Olhão.  RIAS has been in existence for more than 20 years but since October 2009 has been taken over and managed by ALDEIA, a non-profit environmental organisation.

Currently, RIAS have six Griffon Vultures in their care (and one Black Vulture) but looking after vultures is just a small part of their work.  During a typical year they will deal with about 1,000 cases of sick and injured birds and also mammals, reptiles and amphibians.  The vast majority are birds, some like the vultures, are taken there as a result of natural causes but many have been shot or trapped or are victims of fishing hooks and the like.

Griffon Vulture

Eurasian Black Vulture (or Monk Vulture)

We visited RIAS recently to see them in action.  They are a dedicated team (including some volunteers) that works under difficult conditions with their equipment and facilities badly in need of updating.  Although a healthy proportion of their funding is secure for at least four years through an arrangement with ANA Aeroportos de Portugal, money is inevitably an issue and among their fund-raising ventures is a sponsorship scheme.  Members of the public are invited to sponsor individual animals in the centre in return for a Sponsorship Certificate, a photograph of the sponsored animal, news of its progress and an invitation to its eventual release.

Montagu's Harrier

We made a donation that we earmarked for the care of a beautiful Montagu’s Harrier, a bird that will need to re-grow its flight feathers before it can be released and which in the meantime will need to be provided with food.  We have had a huge amount of enjoyment watching Montagu's Harriers this year and we hope that we will eventually get to see this one returned to the wild.

If you would like to sponsor an animal or make a donation, you may contact RIAS at

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