British, French and Swiss news media (The Times, Le Parisien, Cnews and 20 Minutes) recently reported that Griffon Vultures have allegedly killed at least ten sheep and cattle this June in France.Similar reports also regularly come from Spain and Portugal. What is new is that French farmers in Haute-Loire demand the right to remove eggs from nests to minimize the number of vulture chicks hatching in the future. They also want to fire warning shots once they see vultures near their farms to prevent the alleged incidents.
Both measures are unacceptable. Vultures are protected species, and a lot of investment has taken place to restore their populations. The species play a key role in functioning ecosystems and provide several environmental and socio-economic benefits to society.
However, vultures do tend to get a bad reputation, which leads to misconceptions and negative perceptions. Although this perception is slowly changing, there is an emerging real or perceived wildlife-human conflict that keeps unfolding. Livestock breeders across some European regions started alleging that Griffon Vultures, in particular, the most abundant of the four European vulture species, attack their livestock since the 1990s, with the press often further fuelling such accusations, just like in this case. These reports are mostly based on perception and lack scientific evidence, but are facilitating the growing opinion that vultures are predators, which is not the case.
The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) wants to emphasize that:
Vultures are useful to the livestock breeder
Vultures often get a bad reputation for their scavenging nature that is actually very useful to society as a whole. But in recent years, they have been accused of starting to act as predators, killing healthy livestock, which causes a severe human-wildlife-conflict. Farmers and livestock breeders that believe that vultures pose a threat to their work might turn to desperate measures, using harmful practices such as illegal wildlife poisoning. In fact, vultures can actually provide a service to them. For instance, in vast areas of Spain and Sardinia, farmers and vultures have a win-win relationship. Special veterinary regulations allow for partial abandonment of dead animals in the fields, which vultures quickly detect and eat. This solved the need for the carcasses to be picked up and taken to incineration – which would need to happen if there were no scavengers, thus saving the farmers hundreds of thousands of euros in insurance payments every year, and also saving the harmful greenhouse gases that would be produced if those animals had to be transported away.
VCF's position statement on vultures attacking livestock
The Vulture Conservation Foundation has been collating data and investigating this issue for some time to try to keep the record straight. We produced a position paper on alleged attacks of Griffon Vultures to livestock that compiles all the latest available information and recommendations, which can be downloaded below. All evidence from the field comprises data that is checked and corroborated by experts. This data suggests that the number of incidents where vultures attack and kill a live animal is minimal, and almost always concerns animals that are mortally wounded, immobile, very sick or otherwise impaired. The morphology of vultures is not built to prey and is highly implausible for vultures to kill healthy and moving animals. For further details, download and review our position statement below.