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Vultures, cattle … and dogs

The goal of this observation-report is not to fuel a controversy already well known about the damages to cattle, due to vultures and/or dogs.
I only wish to add my testimony from an observation.

This scene occurs in Extremadura – Spain, in November.
Numerous sheep’s flocks are grazing, and several females and their new-born lambs are feeding among the other sheep, and some of them are slightly isolated but not very far.

The sheep are guarded by large dogs, often two. These beautiful animals are relatively aggressive against intruders, running and barking along the fence when some vehicle comes along the road, but they are working and protecting the flock, and this attitude is normal.

Following the road which crosses the plains, we stop to observe an Eurasian Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) on the ground, looking towards something with great attention, but still invisible for us.

Text and pictures by Nicole Bouglouan

From an observation in Extremadura – Spain, in November 2010.



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But about 70-80 metres farther, we see two dogs, one lying on the grass very quietly, while the other is eating something. Two Eurasian Magpies (Pica pica) harass it, and the dog always chases them aggressively.

And finally, we saw the food item… it was a young lamb. The head was unmistakable and almost separated from the body. The dog has probably killed the new-born lamb, alone or with the other dog, because this “work” was that of a mammal, not of a vulture which is not able to kill, and mainly in this way. If the lamb had been stillborn, the vultures always present in the surroundings would have shared its carcass.

After a few minutes, the Eurasian Griffon Vulture which was motionless flew away without any attempt to take something from the carcass.
Chasing the Eurasian Magpies one more time, the dog continued to feed the lamb, tearing the flesh and protecting its food between its legs.

I wish to bring this scene to your attention, because it is sometimes very easy to accuse the vultures or the neighbour’s dogs. Here, the guilty is no one else that the protector of the flock. Its natural instincts got the upper hand, and the new-born lamb was an easy prey.

It is often easy to accuse the vultures because their populations have increased very well after to be near the extinction. But vultures are primarily scavengers and feed on dead carcasses. However, they can be attracted by the blood when some female, sheep or cow, gives birth in pastures, by day or by night, and alone.

I saw in June a female sheep giving birth among the flock in the late afternoon. The flock continued its progression across the pastures with the keeper, and the female remained with her bloody new-born lamb and another female, probably a daughter. It was in the Bardenas Reales in June 2010.

I do not deny that vultures are able to attack a new-born lamb at the moment of the birth, attracted by the blood of the placenta, but to accuse them to kill sheep or older lambs seems to be too much easy!
It is useful to consider that dogs, the sheepdogs themselves, are able to kill a young mammal. That is not necessary to be hungry for that, but the natural instinct in front of a weak prey is often the strongest!

Think about that…