Rescue in the last minute

by firmm Team

Text: Susanne Geisler; Photos: firmm und Albert Rietjens

Today we experienced a truly extraordinary and for all participants impressive boat ride. After being out on the sea for a while, the boat drove a bit slower to search for dolphins and whales, and suddenly there was a big turmoil amongst the passengers.

Our seaman Eugenio and a few passengers saw a large bird in the open water which was floating on the surface of the ocean. First we passed the animal by boat. A guest said: “This probably is the end of the animal.” Without hesitation Eugenio ran quickly to captain Antonio to inform him about the bird and to ask him to turn the boat around. Also Katharina Heyer was directly informed about the incident. She made an announcement, saying that we had spotted an apparently injured bird. All the people on board the boat were excited and asked what would happen now. We really have to help the bird.

Antonio already turned the boat before he could even get an instruction from Katharina and we went back to the animal which was fighting for its life. Soon we realized that it was a griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). It was a young animal. We suspected that he did not have enough strength anymore to fly back to shore, when he tried to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Maybe the Levante-wind with force 4 was too strong for him or the thermal which is so important for him was insufficient. So he was flapping his soaked wings up and down again and again, trying to stay afloat.

Attempt to flap with the wings Soaking wet Struggling against the waves 

Mechanic Fernando and seaman Eugenio had quickly a rescue pole with a metal ring and another pole at hand to lift the animal out of the water. The captain had a difficult job trying to navigate the boat close to the vulture despite the rough sea and the waves and to hold the position of the boat. He also came to help, trying to take the vulture with the given tools and to bring the bird on board the boat with the help of Eugenio. All people on board were nervous and some had no hope for the animal, as it slipped again and again out of the metal ring and had no hold. Antonio gave some orders in Spanish. Everybody tried to help the animal with all his strength.

A wave pushed the bird briefly under water and everybody was afraid that he would lose his last strength now. But the crew fought on fiercely and had the vulture soon in a good position. We all had the feeling that the vulture pulled himself up once again and helped with its wings. He wanted to be saved by us. After a few minutes the crew actually managed to bring the animal on board the boat. Fernando, the mechanic put a towel over the animal`s head and held his beak shut. Then the bird was brought in one of the toilets on board amid applause of the passengers to recover himself from the shock. All were happy that we could help this helpless animal and thanked the crew. It was nice to see that the passengers’ love for animals is not only limited to whales and dolphins but also to other animals on earth. At the same moment Katharina called the port and asked her colleagues to notify the rescue service immediately. When we reached the harbour first all the passengers disembarked. Everybody thanked Katharina and her crew for saving this young vulture. We left the vulture on board, as the emergency service had not arrived yet. Therefore also on the following boat ride the bird was with us.

When we came back to the harbour after the second tour, the employee of the environmental protection authority came with a box and gloves to the boat. First all the passengers disembarked and then the rescue service came on board the boat. He put on his gloves, cautiously opened the door of the small room in which the vulture was sitting and he grasped quickly the neck and the legs of the animal. The bird jerked briefly, but did not resist. The man took the bird out, put him in the box and then closed it.  Everyone was happy that there was such a good end for this young animal. Without the great help of the crew, this beautiful creature would not have survived.

Exhausted griffon vulture Rescue is on the way Careful transport of the young vulture 

Many thanks to the entire crew of the boat and Katharina for their wonderful effort!! Only because of the quick and courageous action of all the people involved we were able to save a young life!

October 05th: After inquiring we were told to our great joy that our griffon vulture is already flying in freedom. He stayed for one week near Malaga, because he was a little weak and malnourished. Fortunately he recovered quickly and therefore was soon released.  

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