SPAIN’s vultures are under threat from a lack of carrion – the carcasses of dead livestock – according to Spanish scientists.

New regulations introduced since the onslaught of mad cow disease in 2002 have meant that vultures now have less food on offer.

The dead bodies of farm animals are now cleared away for health reasons, forcing the hungry vultures to increasingly depend on being fed by humans.

With less food on offer, the decade-long growth in population numbers enjoyed by vultures has now ground to a halt – with numbers even plummeting in some places.

One observatory near Segovia, central Spain, reported a 40 per cent drop over five years, while another in La Rioja, northern Spain, has suffered an 80 per cent drop.

More worryingly however, it has reported that local vultures have stopped reproducing completely.

Some farmers have even complained that the desperate birds have even resorted to attacking live animals.

“The effects of this policy include a halt in population growth, a decrease in breeding success, and an apparent increase in mortality of young age classes,” explained Spanish researchers in a letter written to Science magazine.

Now Spain – which is home to 90 per cent of Europe’s griffin, cinereous and bearded vultures – has called on the European Union to relax the livestock carcass ban.

For centuries there was no problem in leaving carcasses out,” said Juan Antonio Gil, of Spain’s Bearded Vulture Foundation. “The vultures cleaned them up.”

“Now carcasses have to be collected and disposed of centrally which costs money.

“Rather than spend money on tractors, trucks and diesel fuel the task could be done for free by vultures.”

Gil added: “The most efficient and ecologically friendly way to dispose of carcasses is to let the vultures do the job.”

Between 1979 and 1999 the number of Griffin vultures in Spain increased from 3,500 pairs to 18,000 .

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