Why Vultures Avoid Portugal


New research shows a trend of vultures avoiding Portugal in favor of Spain, and human activity is likely to blame. (BBC)

How else are vultures adapting their species ranges?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

We love this iconic Charlie Hamilton James photo of a Ruppell’s vulture, not one of the species tracked in the new research.
Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

Two populations of griffon vultures (a) and one population cinereous vultures (b) were tracked using GPS.
From “Invisible barriers: Differential sanitary regulations constrain vulture movements across country borders,” Biological Conservation 219:46-52. March 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2017.12.039

  • Portugal is a nice place! Why are vultures avoiding it? Read through the short BBC article for some help.
    • They just can’t get enough of Portuguese cuisine. Literally.
      • Vultures are scavengers, meaning they primarily consume decaying biomass such as the bodies of dead animals. Portugal just doesn’t have a lot of big carcasses lying around.


  • Portugal has a healthy livestock industry. So, why doesn’t it have a lot of big carcasses lying around?
    • The clearing of animal carcasses is part of a strict effort to prevent the spread of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE). BSE is a deadly, degenerative disease that is transmissible to other cattle, as well to humans who consume infected meat.
      • Portuguese regulations demand that farmers remove and incinerate cattle carcasses as soon as possible.



  • The evolving species range of at least two species of European vultures is identified as a “transboundary conservation challenge.” What is transboundary conservation?
    • Transboundary conservation describes the system of conserving ecosystems divided by political boundaries; policies, legal and institutional structures; management and governance regimes; and social, cultural and economic contexts.
      • The IUCN identifies four types of transboundary conservation areas.
        • transboundary protected area: This is a clearly defined geographical space that consists of protected areas that are ecologically connected across one or more international boundaries and involves some form of cooperation.
          • Mosi-oa-Tunya, also known as Victoria Falls, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and transboundary protected area on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Take a look at Mosi-oa-Tunya here.
        • transboundary conservation landscape and/or seascape: This is an ecologically connected area that sustains ecological processes and crosses one or more international boundaries, and which includes both protected areas and multiple use areas, and involves some form of cooperation.
        • transboundary migration conservation area: These are wildlife habitats in two or more countries that are necessary to sustain populations of migratory species and involve some form of cooperation. Agreements to protect the migration corridors of migrating bird and marine species make these among the most complex types of transboundary conservation areas.
          • Cooperation between Indonesia and Timor Leste in the Ombai Strait Transboundary Corridor is aimed to protect sperm whales, blue whales, marine turtles, whales sharks, and mantas.
        • Park for Peace: A Peace Park is a special designation that may be applied to any of the three types of transboundary conservation areas, and dedicated to the promotion, celebration and/or commemoration of peace and cooperation.
          • The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, on the boundary between Glacier National Park (in the state of Montana) and Waterton Lakes National Park (in the province of Alberta), was established to celebrate the longstanding peaceful relationship between the United States and Canada.



BBC: Vultures avoid Portugal because of carrion ban

Nat Geo: Vultures Use Power Lines to Expand Their Species Range

IUCN: Transboundary Conservation

(extra credit!) Biological Conservation: Invisible barriers: Differential sanitary regulations constrain vulture movements across country borders

(extra credit!) IUCN: Transboundary Conservation: A systematic and integrated approach

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