Europe and Central Asia
30 Jun 2017

Eat Prey Love VULTURES

Ban Vet Diclofenac campaign © SEO/BirdLife
By Christopher Sands

Christopher Sands explains why vultures are so misunderstood. This article is the editorial of the June edition of the BirdLife Europe & Central Asia newsletter. Read it here in full. 


It is a challenge for those of us who are committed to saving a critical species from extinction to be faced with centuries of cultural prejudice and cliché embedded in the language itself. For what is positive in being characterized as a ‘vulture’?  The answer is, unfortunately, nothing – a ‘vulture’ is someone who we believe swoops in and exploits and steals from the weak and unprotected, a baddie indeed. And yet, in reality, the bird species which has given rise to this cliché doesn’t meet a single one of these critiques. Quite the contrary! As Margaret Atwood so cleverly writes in her terrific poem, ‘Vultures’ they “make life”...“of death” – they “make clean bones”…

what do you make

of death, which you do not

cause, which you eat daily?


I make life, which is prayer.

I make clean bones.

I make a gray zinc noise

which to me is a song.

Well, heart, out of all this

carnage, could you do better?


Vultures are nature’s clean-up crew. They don’t kill, they eat the putrefying flesh of other dead animals, thus helping to reduce the spread of disease and eliminating the need for the treatment and incineration of thousands of tons of animal remains every year, saving us millions of euros in waste management and potential emissions of hundreds of thousands of tons of C02 per year.

And yet, due to our use of veterinary diclofenac to treat cattle and other livestock, vultures have been wiped out in Asia and are now in terrible peril in Europe, especially in Spain, Portugal and Italy. This drug, which is mortal for vultures when they eat an animal treated with it, can easily be replaced by non-toxic substitutes at no extra cost or effort.

This is why we wholeheartedly support our Spanish partner SEO/BirdLife and our Portuguese partner SPEA as they launch a campaign to outlaw the use of veterinary diclofenac to help save this essential bird for our environment’s health. Please check out our article and links in this month’s issue highlighting the campaign, and join us in rejecting the wholly undeserved prejudice against this noble eater of dead flesh.

Keep calm and carrion!


Christopher Sands – Head of Communications, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.