Since 1980, conservation efforts on the Iberian Peninsula have allowed the growth of some 22,000 breeding pairs of the birds, many of which are making use of their 2.65-metre wingspan to head north.
“The hunger brings them out of Spain into the Alps,” said Henning Werth, nature conservation manager for the Allgäu Hochalpen regional chapter of the LBV Bavarian bird protection society.
According to Werth, an EU hygiene order meant to prevent the spread of mad-cow disease and other infectious animal bacteria forces mountain residents in the Spanish Pyrenees and Germany to do away with thousands of carcasses that would traditionally feed the enormous birds. And so the vultures are likely to remain only temporary visitors to Germany.
“If the vulture found enough food, it would have a chance with us again,” Werth said. “Through this impressive glider the Allgäu could become as busy and valued by tourists as the Massif Central in France. But there's not yet enough food for the settlement of a breeding pair.”
Besides depriving the ecosystem of an important scavenger, systematically removing animal carcasses in Bavaria is expensive. Cattle and other domesticated animals that die on the mountainsides must be taken to disposal centres valleys below the peaks – often via helicopter.