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First Rüppell’s Vulture GPS-tagged in Portugal already travelled to Africa

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As the sightings of the African Rüppell’s Vulture continue to grow in Europe, especially in Iberia, we at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) intend to monitor the situation by equipping individuals with GPS transmitters to help determine how long they stay in Europe and where they come from. A couple of weeks ago, we equipped the first Rüppell’s Vulture with a GPS transmitter in Portugal, and the bird has already left for Africa.

Tagging the first Rüppell’s Vulture in Portugal with a GPS transmitter

Back in early September, a Rüppell’s Vulture that was only a few months old needed help in central Portugal and was swiftly rescued, rehabilitated and released. Ahead of the release, the VCF in collaboration with CERVASCRAS UTADICNF and the MAVA Foundation equipped the Rüppell’s Vulture named “Vouzela” with a GPS transmitter – the first time for the species in Portugal and to our knowledge only the third in Europe. The origin of Vouzela still remains a mystery. Did the vulture hatch in the Sahel colonies in Niger and Chad – the closest to Europe, or in an unknown breeding pair somewhere in the Iberian Peninsula? Vouzela’s GPS movements might help find out.

Vouzela reaches Africa – is the vulture heading back home?

After Vouzela’s release on 25 October in the Douro, the vulture flew to the Tejo river and continued heading south. Besides some short breaks along the journey, Vouzela travelled straight through Iberia and on 5 November, the vulture utilised thermals to circle high and gain altitude, crossing the Strait of Gilbatrar and successfully reaching Morocco. Vouzela continued south through Morocco, passed Algeria, Mauritania and is now in Senegal, covering at least 4000 km in just one month. We are eager to see where the vulture settles down.

Maps showing the Rüppell's Vulture Vouzela's GPS movements since release in Portugal
Maps showing the Rüppell’s Vulture Vouzela’s GPS movements since release in Portugal

Africa’s Rüppell’s Vulture becoming a common sight in Europe

The Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) is an African species whose distribution range is located in the equatorial and eastern areas of the continent. It resembles our Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), especially the juvenile and immature birds, being slightly smaller in size. The IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species considers the Rüppell’s Vulture Critically Endangered, which is the last category before global extinction. Its declining state is mostly due to the successive and frequent mass poisonings in Africa, which are driving several species of African vultures to extinction. 

Even though Rüppell’s Vultures are becoming alarmingly scarce in Africa, surprisingly, they are increasingly seen in Europe. This is probably due to increased mixings of individuals of this species with wintering juvenile Griffon Vultures in West Africa. A percentage of Europe’s growing population of Griffon Vultures winters in the Sahel zone of West Africa, where birds encounter some Rüppell’s Vultures. When European Griffons start their migration north, they probably drag some African vultures with them, and with plenty of food in Europe, they are beginning to call our continent home. The species was also added to Andalucía’s list of vultures, making it Europe’s 5th vulture species and one of the most threatened bird species in Spain. Furthermore, in 2020, it was confirmed for the first time that two different adult Rüppell’s Vultures have been regarded as showing breeding behaviour in Griffon Vulture colonies in Cádiz and Málaga respectively.

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