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Cinereous (Eurasian Black) Vulture - Aegypius monachus
#1
Cinereous (Eurasian Black) Vulture - Aegypius monachus


Scientific classification 
Kingdom: Animalia 
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Aves 
Order: Falconiformes (or Accipitriformes, q.v.) 
Family: Accipitridae 
Genus: Aegypius
Species: A. monachus


Cinereous Vulture
Aegypius monachus

What does it look like?
Adult cinereous vultures exhibit the typical featherless head of the vulture family. Mature adults have dark brown plumage with bluish gray skin on the head, neck and legs. Their wings are broad with adults having an 8-10 foot total wingspan. All have a thick and powerful hooked beak that aids in tearing through the tendons and skin of carrion. Strong large feet with blunt talons are used for grasping and holding onto carcasses.

They are also known as the European black vulture 
Juveniles have black plumage with pink skin on the head, neck and legs 
An Adult can weigh up to 28lbs 
Similar to other raptors both sexes look alike however males are often smaller than females 

[Image: 56235090-black-vulture.jpg]

Where in the world?

Currently, it is estimated that there are less than 4,000 birds throughout the world. They are found in the mountainous areas of Spain, the Himalayas of India and Tibet, East to North East Mongolia and also into Sudan. Occasionally they will migrate to Southern China and Northern India. They have also been sighted on Mount Everest at altitudes of up to 23,000 feet (4 miles high). 

[Image: 213-003-002-001aegypius_map.jpg]

What are some behaviors? 

Unlike other vultures Cinereous are not gregarious and are usually seen in pairs or small groups. They will rob other diurnal raptors of food sources due to their size and aggression at areas of feeding. They have excellent eyesight, which assists them at locating prey from great distances. In their niche cinereous are at the top of the food chain and have no natural predators other than man. They have a lifespan of more than 38 years. 

What about offspring?

Cinereous usually form a life long pair bond with successful breeding occurring for the first time at 5-6 years of age. Both sexes take part in the construction of a large nest, which is usually found on the tops of large trees or on rock ledges. The nest is reusable with the pair adding more material each year after the first. After mating a single egg is laid and with proper incubation it will hatch after a period of 50-55 days. Both parents are involved in the rearing of young. For the first 2 months one parent will constantly remain at the nest site to guard and protect the young chick. The parents will regurgitate food and offer it to the offspring with their beak. Young will become fully fledged at 100-120 days of age. 

[Image: 1191277882_613676de4c.jpg]

What does it eat?

As diurnal raptors cinereous mainly feed on medium to large sized carrion and have occasionally been observed hunting live prey such as lizards and tortoises. In recent years a noticeable decline in the availability of carrion has occurred due to a decrease in wild animals and the implementation of modern agricultural practices resulting in better overall health care of domestic livestock. Their large size enables them to be more dominating than other species of vultures at chosen feeding sites.

In captivity cinereous are fed a commercial meat based diet made exclusively for zoo animals. They also consume various small rodents and fowl.

Is it threatened or endangered?

Cinereous vultures are severely threatened due to hunting, poisoning, habitat destruction and the reduction of available wild and domestic food sources throughout most of their range. The Living Desert is a participant in the cinereous vulture species survival plan.

[Image: Cinereous-Vulture-in-flight-Cheorwo.jpg]

http://www.livingdesert.org/animals/cinereous_vulture.asp 
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
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#2
Vulture's scavenging secrets: Ironclad stomach, strong immune system
Vultures have a unique genetic make-up allowing them to digest carcasses, guard themselves against constant exposure to pathogens in their diet


Date: October 21, 2015
Source: BioMed Central
Summary:
Vultures have a unique genetic make-up allowing them to digest carcasses and guard themselves against constant exposure to pathogens in their diet, according to the first Eurasian vulture genome. The study also finds that this species of Asian vulture is more closely related to the North American bald eagle than previously thought.

[Image: 151021083143_1_900x600.jpg]
These are vultures eating in Korea.
Credit: Woon Kee Paek

Vultures have a unique genetic make-up allowing them to digest carcasses and guard themselves against constant exposure to pathogens in their diet, according to the first Eurasian vulture genome published in the open access journal Genome Biology. The study also finds that this species of Asian vulture is more closely related to the North American bald eagle than previously thought.

The cinereous vulture or black vulture, Aegypius monachus, is the largest bird of prey, and an iconic bird in the Far East. The species plays a key role in the ecosystem by removing rotting carcasses, thus preventing the spread of disease.

As their feeding habits involve constant exposure to pathogens, vultures are suspected to have strong immune systems, having evolved mechanisms to prevent infection by the microbes found in their diet. Despite the potential interest in the immune system of scavengers, little is known about the genetic variations involved in vultures' immune processes.

Lead author Jong Bhak from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, said: "This is the first Old World vulture genome that has been reported, and we can see that the cinereous vulture has genetic signatures for resisting infection from eating decaying flesh. Understanding the genetic make-up of extreme life forms has potential for improving human health. The immune system genes we've identified could be useful targets in humans for protection against infection."

The team sequenced the genome of a cinereous vulture, and compared it to that of the closely-related bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, to find genetic signatures of the dietary and environmental adaptations that help enable the vulture's scavenging lifestyle.

Specifically, they found variations in genes related to the regulation of gastric acid secretion, consistent with their ability to digest carcasses. Other genetic variations included several in genes associated with immunity and defense against microbial and viral infections.

These included genes that allow cells to take up microorganisms and target pathogens for ingestion and elimination. The authors suggest that these may play a role in helping the vulture species combat pathogens encountered in their diet and complement the role of gastric secretion.

The term vulture refers to two groups of birds of prey that evolved independently, namely the Old World vultures, found in Africa, Asia and Europe, and the New World vultures, found in the Americas.

By analyzing its full genome, the researchers calculated that the Old World cinereous vulture species diverged from the North American bald eagle species around 18 million years ago. This split is much more recent than the divergence of the Old World and New World vultures around 60 million years ago. The results therefore add further evidence to the hypothesis that the two groups of vultures evolved their similar features and lifestyle independently in different locations.

Co-author Oksung Chung from the Genome Research Foundation, South Korea, said: "We were surprised that the cinereous vulture was so closely related to the bald eagle, compared to the more similar-looking turkey vulture in our analyses.

Co-author Yunsung Cho from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology , South Korea, added: "The cinereous vulture appears to be somewhere in between a vulture and an eagle, and we could even regard it as a 'cinereous eagle' genetically speaking."

Story Source: BioMed Central. "Vulture's scavenging secrets: Ironclad stomach, strong immune system: Vultures have a unique genetic make-up allowing them to digest carcasses, guard themselves against constant exposure to pathogens in their diet." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151021083143.htm (accessed October 21, 2015).




Journal Reference:
Oksung Chung, Seondeok Jin, Yun Sung Cho, Jeongheui Lim, Hyunho Kim, Sungwoong Jho, Hak-Min Kim, JeHoon Jun, HyeJin Lee, Alvin Chon, Junsu Ko, Jeremy Edwards, Jessica A. Weber, Kyudong Han, Stephen J. O’Brien, Andrea Manica, Jong Bhak, Woon Kee Paek. The first whole genome and transcriptome of the cinereous vulture reveals adaptation in the gastric and immune defense systems and possible convergent evolution between the Old and New World vultures. Genome Biology, 2015; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13059-015-0780-4

Abstract
Background
The cinereous vulture, Aegypius monachus, is the largest bird of prey and plays a key role in the ecosystem by removing carcasses, thus preventing the spread of diseases. Its feeding habits force it to cope with constant exposure to pathogens, making this species an interesting target for discovering functionally selected genetic variants. Furthermore, the presence of two independently evolved vulture groups, Old World and New World vultures, provides a natural experiment in which to investigate convergent evolution due to obligate scavenging.
Results
We sequenced the genome of a cinereous vulture, and mapped it to the bald eagle reference genome, a close relative with a divergence time of 18 million years. By comparing the cinereous vulture to other avian genomes, we find positively selected genetic variations in this species associated with respiration, likely linked to their ability of immune defense responses and gastric acid secretion, consistent with their ability to digest carcasses. Comparisons between the Old World and New World vulture groups suggest convergent gene evolution. We assemble the cinereous vulture blood transcriptome from a second individual, and annotate genes. Finally, we infer the demographic history of the cinereous vulture which shows marked fluctuations in effective population size during the late Pleistocene.
Conclusions
We present the first genome and transcriptome analyses of the cinereous vulture compared to other avian genomes and transcriptomes, revealing genetic signatures of dietary and environmental adaptations accompanied by possible convergent evolution between the Old World and New World vultures.

http://www.genomebiology.com/2015/16/1/215 
[Image: wildcat10-CougarHuntingDeer.jpg]
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