Rüppell's vulture

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Rüppell's vulture
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Gyps
Species: G. rueppelli
Binomial name
Gyps rueppelli
(Alfred Brehm, 1852)

Rüppell's vulture or Rüppell's griffon vulture (Gyps rueppelli) 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.[2] Known also as Rüppell's griffon, Rueppell's griffon, Rüppell's griffin vulture, Rueppell's vulture and other variants, it is not to be confused with a different species, the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). Rüppell's vulture is named in honor of Eduard Rüppell, a 19th-century German explorer, collector, and zoologist.[3] 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.[4]


Head of an adult

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,[5][6] 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).[5][7][8] 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. Their range extends through the Sahel region of Africa where they can be found in grasslands, mountains, and woodlands. Once considered common in these habitats, the Rüppell's vultures are experiencing steep declines, especially in the Western portion of their range.[9] They are relatively slow birds, cruising at 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph), but fly for 6–7 hours every day 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).[citation needed] 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.[10] A Rüppell's vulture was confirmed to have been ingested by a jet engine of an airplane flying over Abidjan, Ivory Coast on November 29, 1973 at an altitude of 11,300 m (37,000 ft).[4] 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.[11]

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.[12]



This species of vulture is considered to be monogamous, forming lifelong breeding pairs. After courtship the pair will work together to build a nest using sticks, grass, and leaves that they have gathered or stolen from other nests.[13] Rüppell's vultures build these nests on cliffs, and in key breeding areas they are known to nest is large colonies containing hundreds of breeding pairs. Both parents share in incubation of their egg over a period of 55 days. Once the chick hatches, both parents will feed and tend to it for about 150 days when it fledges.[14] Young remain dependent on their parents after fledging, not reaching independence until the next breeding season. During this time they learn how to find and compete for food.


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.[15] From 2012 to 2014 the Rüppell's vulture was listed as Endangered, however, In 2015 the species was reassessed and uplisted to Critically Endangered status.[16]

The Rüppell's vulture is currently listed as an Appendix II species under CITES, which regulates the international trade of animals and plants.[16] Under this designation, the Rüppell's vulture is defined as not being immediately at risk of extinction, however current population could become threatened without careful regulation of trade.[17]

Since 1992, Rüppell's vulture has been occurring as a vagrant in Spain and Portugal, with annual records since 1997, mainly in the Cadiz / Straits of Gibraltar area, but also further north.[18]


At a blue wildebeest carcass in a river

Rüppell's vulture populations are experiencing declining populations throughout their entire range. These declines can be attributed to loss of habitat related to human-related land use, poisoning, human use for medicine or meat,[19] loss of nesting sites, and declining availability of food sources.[20] Poisoning is currently thought to be the most serious threat to all vulture populations in Africa, although they are not usually the intended target. In events where predators such as lions or hyenas have killed livestock, Carbofuran poisons have been placed into carcasses as retaliation against the predators.[21] Unfortunately, vultures utilize carrion as their main food source and one carcass has the potential to attract hundreds of birds to feed because this species identifies food by sight. One evaluation of 10 poisoning events found that each event caused the death of 37 to 600 individuals.[22]

Killing of Rüppell's vultures for use in medicine has also greatly contributed to the rapid population decline. In many African cultures, vultures are used for medicine and magic related to superstitions that they are clairvoyant and can be used to increase a child's intelligence.[21] Establishing protected wildlife areas is thought to be an effective route to protect the Rüppell's vulture from extinction. The Rüppell's vulture breed and nests in cliffs in northern and southern Kenya, as well as Tanzania. These breeding and nesting grounds amass huge numbers of Rüppell's vultures which will raise young and forage in the surrounding area.[23] Considering that the detection rate of Rüppell's vultures was found to be lower in protected areas than outside of them, extending protection to these key breeding sites could help support their population.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ IUCN Red List 2015.
  2. ^ "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. 
  3. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael (2003). Whose Bird? Men and Women Commemorated in the Common Names of Birds. London: Christopher Helm. p. 294. 
  4. ^ a b Laybourne, Roxie C. (December 1974). "Collision between a Vulture and an Aircraft at an Altitude of 37,000 Feet" (PDF). The Wilson Bulletin. Wilson Ornithological Society. 86 (4): 461–462. ISSN 0043-5643. JSTOR 4160546. OCLC 46381512. 
  5. ^ a b "Birdlife.org". Birdlife.org. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  6. ^ Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Stevenson & Fanshawe. Elsevier Science (2001), ISBN 978-0856610790
  7. ^ Sinclair, Ian; Phil Hockey (2005). Sasol: The Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa. Illustrated by Norman Arlott and Peter Hayman (2nd ed.). Cape Town: Struik Publishers. ISBN 978-1-77007-243-5. Retrieved July 27, 2013. 
  8. ^ Raptors of the World by Ferguson-Lees, Christie, Franklin, Mead & Burton. Houghton Mifflin (2001), ISBN 0-618-12762-3
  9. ^ "Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) - BirdLife species factsheet". www.birdlife.org. Retrieved 2016-02-29. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Haines, Lester (2010-08-18). "Giant vulture menaces Scottish skies". TheRegister.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-05-31. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ "Ruppell's Griffon Vulture Facts - National Zoo". nationalzoo.si.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-29. 
  14. ^ "Rueppell's griffon videos, photos and facts - Gyps rueppellii". ARKive. Retrieved 2016-02-29. 
  15. ^ "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. 
  16. ^ a b "Gyps rueppelli (Rueppell's Griffon, Rüppell's Griffon Vulture, Ruppell's Vulture, Rüppell's Vulture)". www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved 2016-02-29. 
  17. ^ "The CITES Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2016-02-29. 
  18. ^ Gutiérrez, Ricard (2003) Occurrence of Rüppell's Griffon Vulture in Europe Dutch Birding 2595): 289-303
  19. ^ Thiollay, Jean-Marc (2006-04-01). "The decline of raptors in West Africa: long-term assessment and the role of protected areas". Ibis. 148 (2): 240–254. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2006.00531.x. ISSN 1474-919X. 
  20. ^ Virani, Munir Z.; Kendall, Corinne; Njoroge, Peter; Thomsett, Simon (2011-02-01). "Major declines in the abundance of vultures and other scavenging raptors in and around the Masai Mara ecosystem, Kenya". Biological Conservation. 144 (2): 746–752. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2010.10.024. 
  21. ^ a b c Ogada, Darcy L. (2014-08-01). "The power of poison: pesticide poisoning of Africa's wildlife". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1322 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1111/nyas.12405. ISSN 1749-6632. 
  22. ^ Ogada, Darcy; Shaw, Phil; Beyers, Rene L.; Buij, Ralph; Murn, Campbell; Thiollay, Jean Marc; Beale, Colin M.; Holdo, Ricardo M.; Pomeroy, Derek (2015-06-01). "Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa's Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction". Conservation Letters: n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/conl.12182. ISSN 1755-263X. 
  23. ^ Virani, Munir Z.; Monadjem, Ara; Thomsett, Simon; Kendall, Corinne (2012-09-01). "Seasonal variation in breeding Rüppell's Vultures Gyps rueppellii at Kwenia, southern Kenya and implications for conservation". Bird Conservation International. 22 (03): 260–269. doi:10.1017/S0959270911000505. ISSN 1474-0001. 

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