|Conservation status||Critically endangered|
Rüppell's vulture (Gyps rueppelli) is a bird of prey from the subfamily of the Old World vultures, Aegypiinae, and named in honor of German naturalist and explorer Eduard Rüppell. Among all bird species Rüppell's vulture holds the record for the highest flight carried out by a living animal.
Rüppell's vulture has a length of 33 to 41 inches, a wing span of 7.4 to 8.5 feet, and a body weight of 14 to 20 lb. Its standing height is 33 inches. The plumage is dark brown in color throughout, but the feathers on both body and upper and lower wing coverts are tipped in a creme-white, giving the bird a spotted or mottled appearance. Head, neck, and feet are white feathered, and the bird has a white neck ruff.
They are found on the African continent from the Atlantic Ocean in Senegal eastward to Ethiopia, south to the middle Tanzania.
Rüppell's vulture is very sociable and is mostly found in large groups, in arid and semi-arid land and savannas in the search for food. Frequently he is associated with white-backed vultures. Rüppell's vultures are breed in colonies on rugged rocky promontories or in caves. The egg, white in color with pale brown spots, is incubated for 55 days. The feeding period of the nestlings is 150 days, the young bird is fledged within 3 months, with sexual maturity reached after 5–7 years. A pair of Rüppell's vultures often uses the same breeding grounds for several years. Life expectancy is 30–40 years.
Rüppell's vulture is a carrion feeder, eating the muscles and internal organs of large ungulates. In a single feeding they can eat up to 20% of their own body weight, making it difficult to take flight.
It was known for some time that several species of birds have been seen at extreme altitudes, such as migrating geese seen at 29,000 feet over the Himalaya Mountains. On November 29, 1973, in the airspace above Côte d'Ivoire in west Africa, a bird-strike occurred with a commercial aircraft at an altitude of 37,000 feet, knocking out one engine and forcing a landing at nearby Abijan. Feather remains recovered positively identified the bird as a Rüppell's vulture; subsequent tests on the birds indicate they efficiently use what little oxygen is available when flying at high altitudes. The knowledge that such an animal could fly at a jet airplane's cruising altitude led to the incredible air warning issued to pilots in August, 2010, after a vulture escaped from World of Wings in Scotland.
Rüppell's vulture is listed as "critically endangered" by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. The global stock currently suffers from a sharp decline, which is likely to continue. The main threats are the loss of habitat through agricultural land conversion and the associated persecution by humans (indirect bait trap poisoning, poaching, fetish trade, etc.) as well as the loss of the food supply by wild ungulates.
In 2007 diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat livestock, was found for sale in Tanzania. Ingestion of domestic livestock carrion by Gyps species throughout central and southern Asia has decimated large numbers of vultures to the point where once-common birds are endangered, and the possibility exists that the spread of diclofenac would reduce vulture numbers in Africa by some 97% over three generations.