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Rueppell's Griffon Images
Rppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) is a large vulture that occurs throughout the Sahel region of central Africa. The current population of 30,000 is in decline due to loss of habitat and other pressures. Also known as Rppell's Griffon, Rueppell's Griffon, Rppell's Griffin Vulture, Rueppell's Vulture and other variants, Rppell's Vulture is named in honor of Eduard Rppell, a 19th-century German explorer, collector, and zoologist. Rppell's Vulture is considered to be the highest-flying bird, with confirmed evidence of a flight at an altitude of above sea level.
Adults are long, with a wingspan of , and a weight that ranges from . Both sexes are alike: mottled brown or black overall with a whitish-brown underbelly and thin, dirty-white fluff covering the head and neck. The base of the neck has a white collar, the eye is yellow or amber, the crop patch deep chocolate-brown. Silent as a rule, they become vocal at the nest and when at a carcass, squealing a great deal.
Rppell's Vultures are highly social, roosting, nesting, and gathering to feed in large flocks. They can travel fast at need, cruising at up to , and will fly as far as from a nest site to find food. Rppell's Vultures commonly fly at altitudes ranging up to . The birds have a specialized variant of the hemoglobin alphaD subunit; this protein has a high affinity for oxygen, which allows the species to take up oxygen efficiently despite the low partial pressure in the upper troposphere. A Rppell's Vulture was confirmed to have been ingested by a jet engine of an airplane flying over Abidjan, Cte d'Ivoire on November 29, 1973 at an altitude of . In August 2010 a Rppell's Vulture escaped a bird of prey site in Scotland, prompting warnings to pilots in the area to keep an eye out due to the danger of collision. Rppell's Vultures are creatures of the more arid and mountainous areas of Africa: particularly semi-desert and the fringes of deserts. They roost on inaccessible rock ledges if these are available, or in trees, usually Acacia. When thermal updrafts start to develop enough lift, about two hours after sunrise, Rppell's Vultures leave the roost and begin to patrol over the plains, using their exceptionally keen eyesight to find large animal carcasses, or carnivores which have made a kill. They will wait, several days if necessary, until a carnivore leaves a carcass. They have been known to take live prey on occasion, but this is rare. Rppell's Vultures have several adaptations to their diet and are specialized feeders even among the Old World vultures of Africa. They have an especially powerful build and, after the most attractive soft parts of a carcass have been consumed, they will continue with the hide, and even the bones, gorging themselves until they can barely fly. They have backward-facing spines on the tongue to help remove meat from bone.
Since first being assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1988, populations of Rppell's Vulture have declined. The species has been listed with an IUCN Red List status of "near threatened" since 2007 and the IUCN predicts that populations of the species will continue to decline. In 2012 the species was uplisted to Endangered .