Members of the genus Gyps are vultures varying in size from medium to large. They have an elongated head with a long and heavy beak. The head and neck are bare, but for a covering of woolly down. At the base of the neck is a ruff of long, narrow, pointed feathers. This is a social genus, usually nesting in colonies in trees or on rocky crags. There are seven species, covering much of Africa, southern Europe and into Asia. Of there, two (the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus and the Indian White-backed Vulture Gyps bengalensis ) are arguably more logically places in a genus of their own. They differ in that they have 12 tail feathers (not the 14 that all other Gyps have), their nesting habits differ, and they have a distinctive coloration that differs significantly from the rest of the genus.
Listen to the sound of Rueppells Vulture
Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto
The nests are built on ledges, and are usually slight structures of sticks plastered with droppings and sometimes scarcely visible under this whitewash.
The breeding season in East and north-east Africa is elastic, and includes some breeding in most months of the year. However there is a tendency to concentrate in the dry season, and more birds will be found at breeding colonies at that time than at any other. Relative to its numbers it is an infrequent breeder. The young is in the nest for at least three months.
It is not one of the first birds to come to a carcase as a rule, and is attracted by the movements of other birds. In the plains and deserts of East and northeast Africa it outnumbers all other vultures seen at a kill, with the exception sometimes of the Whitebacked Vulture. When feeding they form a seething, squabbling mob round the carcase, getting right inside the body cavity if necessary. At a carcase adults, when alighting, will often perform a threat display which consists of bounding several feet vertically into the air with wings spread and head erect, while at the same time approaching the food. This seems to secure them a passage in the throng. These vultures will drive away a Tawny Eagle. Although a large number of these birds together will consume a carcase very quickly, it does not always follow that when a carcase is available vultures will come to it. Carcases sometimes lie in the open for days before being touched, even if other smaller scavengers are present such as crows, kites, Bateleur, and Tawny Eagles. On the other hand a throng of really hungry vultures will leave very little of a large antelope or dead cow after an hour or so’s work, gorging till they can only take off with difficulty.
Video Rueppells Vulture
copyright: Peter van Dam
The species is threatened by habitat loss through agricultural conversion, incidental poisoning, persecution and at least historically, the loss of wild ungulates. In 2007, Diclofenac, a non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drug often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania. In addition, it was reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes and exporting it to 15 African countries. The West African population has been heavily exploited for trade, with birds commonly sold in fetish markets. For example, the Dogon, of central Mali, climb the Hombori cliffs to take eggs and chicks of this species. It is apparently also captured for international trade. In 2005, 30 birds were reportedly confiscated by the Italian authorities. Disturbance, especially from climbers, is a particular problem for this species. In Mali, the Hombori and Dyounde massifs are dotted with at least 47 climbing routes, on which expeditions take place every year, mainly during the species’s breeding season. However, the impact of these activities is not known.