Vultures are slowly returning to Germany, driven out long ago by an unwelcoming populace. At the behest of conservationists, loosened "carcass regulations" in Europe have made the search for food less daunting -- but some still wonder if the birds will be able to survive.
Griffon vulture number 259 is no longer able to fly. A bullet from a small-caliber rifle wielded by an unknown shooter shattered the ulna and radius of the bird's wing in June. Veterinarians tried to rehabilitate the vulture, using physical therapy to strengthen its wing muscles and even applying leeches to improve circulation, but nothing worked.
"It's over for him," says Wolfgang Rades, director of Herborn, a bird park in the central German state of Hesse. Rades casts a concerned glance toward the vulture, where it crouches on a pile of stones in a corner of its enclosure, looking a sad sight on this cold, damp morning. Yet for Rades, the bird is also a sign of hope. "He's an ambassador for others of his kind living in the wild," the biologist says. "Many more vultures will follow him, if we humans allow them to."