(Alfred Brehm, 1852)
Rüppell's vulture or Rüppell's griffon vulture (Gyps rueppellii) is a large vulture that occurs throughout the Sahel region of central Africa. The current population of 30,000 is decreasing due to loss of habitat, deliberate poisoning by ivory poachers and other factors. Known also as Rüppell's griffon, Rueppell's griffon, Rüppell's griffin vulture, Rueppell's vulture and other variants, Rüppell's vulture is named in honor of Eduard Rüppell, a 19th-century German explorer, collector, and zoologist. Rüppell's vulture is considered to be the highest-flying bird, with confirmed evidence of a flight at an altitude of 11,300 m (37,000 ft) above sea level.
These are large vultures, noticeably outsizing the closely related white-backed vulture, with which they often co-occur in the wild. Adults are 85 to 103 cm (33 to 41 in) long, with a wingspan of 2.26 to 2.6 metres (7.4 to 8.5 ft), and a weight that ranges from 6.4 to 9 kg (14 to 20 lb). Both genders look alike: mottled brown or black overall with a whitish-brown underbelly and thin, dirty-white fluff covering the head and neck. The base of the neck has a white collar, the eye is yellow or amber, the crop patch deep brown. Silent as a rule, they become vocal at their nest and when at a carcass, squealing a great deal.
Rüppell's vultures are very social, roosting, nesting, and gathering to feed in large flocks. They can travel fast when needed, cruising at as much as 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph), and will fly as far as 150 kilometres (93 mi) from a nest site to find food.
Rüppell's vultures commonly fly at altitudes as high as 6,000 metres (20,000 ft). The birds have a specialized variant of the hemoglobin alphaD subunit; this protein has a great affinity for oxygen, which allows the species to absorb oxygen efficiently despite the low partial pressure in the upper troposphere. A Rüppell's vulture was confirmed to have been ingested by a jet engine of an airplane flying over Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire on November 29, 1973 at an altitude of 11,300 m (37,000 ft). During August 2010 a Rüppell's vulture escaped a bird of prey site in Scotland, prompting warnings to pilots in the area to watch carefully due to the danger of collision.
Rüppell's vultures have several adaptations to their diet and are specialized feeders even among the Old World vultures of Africa. They have an especially powerful build and, after the most attractive soft parts of a carcass have been consumed, they will continue with the hide, and even the bones, gorging themselves until they can barely fly. They have backward-pointing spines on the tongue to help remove meat from bone. Despite their size, power and adaptations, they are not the most dominant vulture in their range, which is considered to be the even larger lappet-faced vulture.
Since first being assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature during 1988, populations of Rüppell's vulture have decreased. The species has been listed with an IUCN Red List status of "near threatened" since 2007 and the IUCN predicts that populations of the species will continue to decrease. During 2012 the species was given Endangered status.
- The white-backed vulture, which is slightly smaller and has a shorter neck.
- IUCN Red List 2012.
- "Bird Life Species Factsheet — Rueppell's Vulture Gyps rueppellii". Bird Life International website. Bird Life International. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-06-10. Retrieved 2010-06-10. "Identification 85-97 cm. Medium-sized vulture."
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- Laybourne, Roxie C. (December 1974). "Collision between a Vulture and an Aircraft at an Altitude of 37,000 Feet". The Wilson Bulletin (Wilson Ornithological Society) 86 (4): 461–462. ISSN 0043-5643. JSTOR 4160546. OCLC 46381512.
- "Birdlife.org". Birdlife.org. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
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- Raptors of the World by Ferguson-Lees, Christie, Franklin, Mead & Burton. Houghton Mifflin (2001), ISBN 0-618-12762-3
- Weber, RE; Hiebl, I; Braunitzer, G. (April 1988). "High altitude and hemoglobin function in the vultures Gyps rueppellii and Aegypius monachus". Biological Chemistry Hoppe-Seyler (SAUS) (De Gruyter) 369 (4): 233–40. doi:10.1515/bchm3.1988.369.1.233. ISSN 0177-3593. PMID 3401328.
- Haines, Lester (2010-08-18). "Giant vulture menaces Scottish skies". TheRegister.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-05-31.
- "Gyps rueppellii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2010.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2010-06-09. "This long-lived vulture has experienced a moderately rapid reduction in its global population which is likely to continue. For these reasons it is listed as Near Threatened."
- "Recently recategorised species". Birdlife International (2012). Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- Gutiérrez, Ricard (2003) Occurrence of Rüppell's Griffon Vulture in Europe Dutch Birding 2595): 289-303
- BirdLife International (2012). "Gyps rueppellii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- BirdLife International (2007a): 2006–2007 Red List status changes. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
- BirdLife International (2007b): Rüppell's Vulture - BirdLife Species Factsheet. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
- "Rüppell's vulture videos". The Internet Bird Collection. Retrieved November 2011.