Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/08/18/vulture_menace/

Giant vulture menaces Scottish skies

'A genuine threat to airplanes'

By Lester Haines

Posted in Science, 18th August 2010 13:58 GMT

Pilots over Scotland have been warned to keep a sharp eye out for a Rueppell's Griffon Vulture which is currently awol from a Cumbernauld bird of prey centre and poses "a genuine threat to airplanes".

The missing beast - a seven-year-old female called Gandalf - was flying at World of Wings when she was transported into the blue yonder.

Centre director David Ritchie explained to the BBC: "She was taking part in her daily display and started to soar. She got caught in the wind and just went higher and higher until she disappeared.

"We would warn people not to approach her but to call the police. She has no fear of humans and she could give someone a very severe bite. Her beak is designed to tear flesh apart."

The main threat, however, is to air traffic. Ritchie said: "These birds can soar higher than any other in the world, and have recorded heights of over 36,000 feet. Gandalf is an absolute monster bird with a 10-and-a-half foot wingspan. She poses a genuine threat to airplanes."

A Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman trembled: "It can be quite serious. All the operators in the area have been notified."

A spokesman for Cumbernauld Airport confirmed the threat, warning: "With a wingspan of 10ft, it could do a lot of damage to a large aircraft. But it's also half the size of some of our small training aircraft and it could take one of them, or even a helicopter, right out."

The Beeb explains that Gandalf has been at World of Wings since 2006, when she was relocated from her home in the Sahel region of central Africa as part of a breeding programme.

There are around 30,000 Rueppell's Griffon Vultures (Gyps rueppelli) in the wild, but their numbers are threatened by "ongoing loss of habitat and other pressures". ®