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Cinereous vulture
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How Europe’s largest bird of prey came back from the brink

The cinereous vulture was driven out of much of the continent, but now it’s back

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham

Someday soon you might look up in the sky and see a huge flying thing with a whopping three-metre wingspan. But don’t worry, airborne dinosaurs aren’t back. It’ll likely just be a magnificent (and harmless) cinereous vulture, which was once Europe’s largest and heaviest raptor and is now being reintroduced to parts of the continent.

The cinereous vulture (sometimes called the ‘black vulture’) once lived across all of Europe. The birds were wiped out of the region partly due to habitat loss and partly due to poisoning from lead bullets they’d picked up from eating carcasses shot by humans. For years, they’ve only really been found in Spain and Portugal – but now the vulture is making a comeback elsewhere.

Conservationists are reintroducing the species to the Rhodope mountain range, a huge area that spans bits of both Bulgaria and Greece. Seventeen of the birds have been rewilded from Spain, with the hope not only being that the vultures will spread across their historic range, stretching from the Middle East through to Spain, Portugal and western Europe, but that they’ll also contribute positively to local ecosystems.

Because the vultures usually feast on the dead carcasses of small animals, they’re considered a ‘keystone species’ and are therefore vital to the mountain ecosystem. By getting rid of all the dead stuff, they also apparently help stop the spread of diseases like rabies.

According to The Independent, the cinereous vulture is just one of many species to be reintroduced to the Rhodopes. Bison, fallow deer, red deer, Karakachan horses and Konik ponies have all already been rewilded in the mountain range.

And this effort is just one of many across the continent to return species to their natural habitat. From beavers and bison to lynxes, wolves and ospreys, there’s currently a huge drive to rewild species which have been driven out of their natural habitat by humans. 

Now read about how wild animals are being reintroduced across Europe.

Plus: London is about to get some ‘natural’ revamping.

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