Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Dead Meat Gifts

It’s spring at last! Today is officially the first day of the season, and in many areas it’s been a long time coming.

As a birdwatcher, my thoughts naturally turn to our feathered friends as the weather warms up. The popular press is doing the same thing, and the news posts today are flooded with articles about declining bird populations, critically endangered birds, habitat loss and the like.

Amongst all this doom and gloom, I found some positive news, and about a most unlikely species.

It seems Spain has a problem with starving vultures. Regulations introduced by the European Union in 2002 to stop the spread of mad cow disease made it illegal to leave dead livestock in the fields.

Spanish vultures in trouble

Spanish vultures in trouble

These meat-eating birds rely on dead animals for survival, so the new regs mean the vultures have lost an important source of food. The birds are so famished that farmers have seen them attack and kill cows and pigs to satisfy their hunger.

In just about any country in the world, I’m sure little attention would be paid to the plight of a bird that people love to hate.

However, in Madrid, the head of the regional government is modifying the rules to allow some animals that die of natural causes to be left in the countryside to rot. Before the new regulations, farmers could legally dump carcasses in designated areas, and the new legislation will allow them to do that again.

Am I reading this correctly? A government helping birds? Whatever next.

Vultures are very much like hyenas in peoples’ minds. In spite of the fact that these animals provide an extremely important function by clearing the landscape of dead animals, most people shudder when they’re mentioned.

Not only is the government in Madrid not shuddering, they’re actively working to protect the vultures. In the rest of the world, it’s nearly impossible to get any government to protect even the songbirds that everyone likes, never mind a bird with a negative image.

Maybe if we get lucky the conservation mindset of Spanish officials will spread to other countries around the world. But I’m not holding my breath.

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