Visiting Europe’s ‘Vulture Kingdom’ – welcome to Monfragüe National Park
Sometimes, I’m very lucky. As a biologist who has gradually migrated from the often harsh, yet beautiful, conditions of fieldwork to the (even tougher!) environment of desk-based management, I know how to appreciate a return to origins. In a week such as this, I can only smile.
I am typing this from Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura, Spain. To some of you, this name might be unfamiliar. For others, I’m sure it conjures images of the spectacular view from my window: a vast, wild Dehesa (a classic landscape of southern Spain and Portugal), surrounded by gentle hills with rocky tops, where black and griffon vultures soar the skies and where cranes have just arrived to spend their winter; a place where human settlements live in harmony with nature, harvesting olives, acorns, cork, grapes…a perfect and well- cherished European Savanah.
But I’m not here for fun. This is neither a holiday nor a field trip: I’m here, at the heart of Europe’s ‘Vulture Kingdom’ because 70 of the world’s top vulture conservation scientists are meeting right now as part of a historic global push to save 15 species of ‘old-world’ vultures. This is an urgent attempt to protect these majestic creatures – the birds with largest wingspan in Europe, the cleaning-patrol that once soared proudly over so many European countries – from the everyday perils that threaten them with the near-total wipe-out almost seen in Asia: poisoning, collisions with power lines, food scarcity and even veterinary drugs such as diclofenac.
The technical name for this meeting is as long as the wingspan of the birds that brought us here: the Multi-species Action Plan to conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP). In short, we are here to tell the world what is threatening 4 iconic African-Eurasian species: (i) Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), (ii) Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), (iii) Cinereous (Black) Vulture (Aegypius monachus), and (iv) Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus)). Similar meetings are taking place in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East and the outcomes from each of these will be pooled and redeveloped, under the auspices of the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS), into the first global action plan for all 15 old-world vulture species.
So, come join me on this incredible and important journey! If you want to discover more about why vultures are so critical for us follow the hashtag #SaveVultures on twitter. I have been reporting directly from the ‘Vulture Kingdom’ for the past three days…..is there a cooler place to work?
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