Rueppell’s griffon (Gyps rueppellii)

Also known as: Rüppell’s griffon, Rüppell’s vulture
French: Vautour de Rüppell
GenusGyps (1)
SizeLength: 101 cm (2)
Wingspan: 241 cm (2)
Weight6800 – 9000 g (2)

Rueppell's griffon is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Rueppell’s griffon is a large African vulture that feeds solely on carrion and bone fragments of dead animals (2). Like other vultures, Rueppell’s griffon cuts a distinctive silhouette when in flight, with wide wings, a short square tail and a short head, as it folds and tucks its long neck into its body (4). The pale tips of the blackish-brown feathers give Rueppell’s griffon’s plumage a scaled appearance, and its head and long neck are covered with fine white down. The powerful and slightly hooked bill, suited to tearing flesh and crunching bone, is orange to yellow, and its eyes are yellow (2) (5).

Two subspecies of Rueppell’s griffon are recognised: Gyps rueppellii rueppellii occurs in Mauritania, Sudan, Niger, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, while G. r. erlangeri inhabits Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia (2).

Rueppell’s griffon inhabits sub-Saharan woodland and grassland up to altitudes of 4,500 metres. It often breeds and roosts around cliffs and gorges (2) (6).

Rueppell’s griffons spend much of their day on the wing, flying with slow, powerful wing beats or gliding with their wings held level. They are often found at great altitudes, where they can utilise thermals or strong winds for more efficient soaring (4). They locate food entirely by sight (6), and once a carcass is spotted, Rueppell’s griffon swoops down, lands a little way off and then bounds forwards with its wings spread and long neck outstretched (5). This scavenger may have gone many days without a meal and it will insert its strong neck under the dead animal’s skin, or even crawl into the rib-cage, as it gorges on its find (2) (5). Fights between griffons are common as they struggle to gain their meal (2), with their necks often becoming deep red with aggression as they grunt, hiss and chatter at their adversary (4).

Rueppell’s griffons breed on cliff faces in colonies of tens to thousands of pairs where they lay their eggs on to a platform of sticks lined with grass, placed on an open ledge. It sometimes also nests in trees. A single egg is laid, generally after the long rainy season, and incubated for 55 days. The parents share the responsibility of caring for the downy grey chick that hatches, which fledges at around 150 days of age (2).

This formerly abundant bird of prey has undergone rapid declines in much of its range, particularly in West Africa, and it is now largely confined to protected areas (7). Although less studied than other griffons, these declines are known to have been caused by agriculture encroaching on their habitat, large-scale incidental poisoning, and persecution (2) (6). In West Africa, Rueppell’s griffon has been heavily exploited for use in Black Magic (7).

Rueppell’s griffon occurs in a number of protected areas throughout its range, including Serengeti National Park, Tanzania; a World Heritage Site and an important feeding area for the griffon (8). The continued protection of these areas is important for preventing greater declines of Rueppell’s griffon, as is establishing legal protection, particularly in West Africa, in an effort to reduce levels of exploitation (6).

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (December, 2007)
  4. Clark, W.S. (1999) A Field Guide to the Raptors of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. BirdLife International (December, 2007)
  7. IUCN: African Vultures (December, 2007)
  8. BirdLife IBA Factsheet: Serengeti National Park (December, 2007)