Of the more than 1,000 bird species recorded in Kenya, none is as fascinating as the Rüppell’s Vulture. With a current estimated population of about 30,000, the Rüppell’s Vulture, like many other animals of the wild, is in decline due, mostly, to ongoing loss of habitat. The species is listed in the IUCN Red List as ‘near threatened’.
Named after the 19th century German explorer, collector and zoologist, Eduard Rüppell, the Rüppell’s Vulture, also known as Rüppell’s Griffon, holds the record of the world’s highest-flying bird. It has been known to reach heights as high as 11,000 M (36,100 FT) above sea level but on average, it does 6,000 M (20,000 FT).
The ability of the Rüppell’s Vulture to scale such heights is attributed to a specialised type of protein in its blood that has an affinity for oxygen. This allows it to take up oxygen efficiently despite the low pressure in such high altitudes.
This vulture is highly social, roosting, nesting and gathering to feed in large flocks which can be as large as 1,000 pairs of breeding birds living close together. It is capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 KM/H and can fly as far as 150 KM from its nest to look for food.
From the life of the Rüppell’s Vulture, many lessons can be learnt – both good and bad. It spends its entire life, about 40 to 50 years, in pairs without parting from each other throughout its life. How romantic?
The pair even take turns to lie on the one egg that is hatched and go on to feed the offspring that is produced together. A truly amazing partnership right there!
But when it comes to building their love nest, the raw material, made of usually sticks, leaves and grass, comes from the ‘lady Rüppell’s.
She literally steals the building material from the nests of other Rüppell’s couples nearby and brings them to the male who does the design and architectural work on the usually large nest without asking about the source of the raw material.
Perhaps nature’s perfect sanitiser yet, the Rüppell’s Vulture has a powerful bill with backward-facing splines on its tongue to help remove meat from bones. Long after cleaning the flesh off of a carcass, it will proceed to feast on the hide, then the bones – gorging itself until it cannot be able to fly!
The best places to catch this magnificent flying creature in Kenya is in the Maasai Mara. There you go, you have something else to look out for besides the BIG FIVE.