By Tessa Giannini, Animal Care Professional, Aviary
2018 has been celebrated as The Year of the Bird nation-wide. This month, we’re highlighting vultures and the important, but often overlooked role they play!
Vultures and other scavengers sometimes get a bad rap for being unattractive or unsanitary and are associated with death and bad omens. What many people don’t realize is that scavenging birds are incredibly important for a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Without them, deceased organisms would not decompose nearly as quickly and diseases would spread more rapidly. In areas without vultures, carcasses take 3-4 times longer to decompose!
Vultures tend to be social animals and will feed and roost in flocks. Did you know their bald heads and hunched awkward bodies are designed to be adaptive to their diets? Their bald helps these messy eaters stay clean as they dive into a meal.
Although some species prefer fresh meat, vultures will feed on carcasses in various stages of decomposition, even carcasses that may be infected! Thanks to their very strong stomach acid, vultures are able to feed on rotting, infected carcasses without ill-effect.
Sadly, 14 of the 23 species of vultures are threatened or endangered due to a variety of threats including poisoning (both accidental and intentional), vehicle collisions, power line collisions, habitat degradation, lack of food availability and human-wildlife conflict. Many of the species facing these threats occur in Africa and Asia.
Vultures, also known as “nature’s garbage collectors” love to be appreciated year-round! If you find a wild vulture that is injured and needs help, contact a local certified wildlife rehabilitation facility that can provide them with the proper care to return to their native habitat. To help these species, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has a designated the African Vulture a Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program. This program focuses on assisting 6 species of Endangered or Critically Endangered African Vultures by partnering conservation work in Africa with the work that zoos are doing in North America.
Here at ZooTampa at Lowry Park we are home to Quito, the Andean Condor and Smedley, the Black Vulture. Both of these handsome birds can be found flying in our “Spirits of the Sky” Bird of Prey demonstration, where they help educate visitors about the importance of vultures.