IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
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Vulture feeding stations, mad cows and wolves

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Aragonese authorities have announced the setting-up of a network of feeding stations* for vultures and other carrion-eaters. The spread of mad cows disease into Spain means that, following EU rules, dead cows, sheep and goats can no longer be left in the countryside, and must be destroyed. This directly affects scavengers which rely on dead livestock for 60-100% of their diet.

SEO offered the following figures for scavenger raptors for the whole of Spain for 2001:

Lammergeyer (70-80 pairs - 80% of >European population: principally in the Pyrenees)
Egyptian vulture (1,300 pairs - 80%)
Black vulture (1,200 pairs - 98%)
Griffon vulture (17,500 pairs - 85-95%)
Iberian imperial eagle (130 pairs - 100%)
Golden eagle (1,200 pairs - around 20%)
Red kite (3,500 pairs - 7% [80% European population winters in Spain])
Black kite (9,000 pairs - 18%).

These raptors have traditionally provided a quick, cheap and efficient way of removing dead livestock unfit for consumption. It is estimated that scavengers removed more than 15% of the biomass (around 10,000 tons in 1999) generated very year through deaths among Spanish livestock. More here:

On the same subject, researchers have noted that wolf attacks on livestock are increasing for precisely the same reason: the most important part of the diet of many wolf packs is carrion (see Return of the Iberian wolf ). Occasional feeding stations in areas where carrion represents an important part of wolves' diet would seem a cheaper and less contentious alternative to compensating shepherds for animals killed. Wolves, like many carnivores, frequently get so excited by the blood and slaughter that they kill far more numbers of a flock than they need. In Spanish these attacks are known as lobadas . One study in Burgos showed an average of 7.6 sheep killed for every lobada , Although this is surely exceptional, the wolf is at times its own worse enemy.

*known in Spanish as muladares (1) or simply buitreras.
1. defined in the DAE as a place where dung or household rubbish is thrown.
See my lammergeyer article here