Vultures play a critical role in the environment and are beneficial to all animals, including humans. They consume carrion (or dead animals), which rids the environment of potentially deadly carcasses. “Without vultures, we would quickly be up to our necks in diseases that could severely impact our health,” says Dallas Zoo Bird Supervisor Kevin Graham. “It takes all vultures working as a team to fully clean a carcass.”
Larger African vultures, such as the lappet-faced and white-backed varieties, get the job started once a carcass is initially detected. Lappet-faced vultures, with their large, powerful beaks are able to tear into tough hides to expose the meat within the carrion. White-back and Ruppell’s vultures, with their long necks, specialize in cleaning out interior muscle and organs. Then, in come the hooded vultures for the final clean-up. Hooded vultures are equipped with long, slender bills that allow them to get meat from harder-to-reach areas like between the ribs and inside the skull.
Sadly, these incredible birds are under siege right now when it comes to survival, including in Africa where they’re being poisoned by the thousands. African vulture populations have declined about 90% in the last 50 years, and if we don’t do something, they could very well be extinct within our lifetimes.
Vulture poisonings are two-fold. Farmers will poison large carnivores that threaten their livestock – like lions and wild dogs. The vultures consume the poisoned carcasses and die as a result. Poachers have also begun intentionally poisoning the carcasses of their illegally hunted animals in order to kill off vultures who may give away their location to authorities, which is even more alarming.
Fortunately, accredited zoos and aquariums, including your Dallas Zoo, are working hard to ensure the survival of African vultures and countless other species through Species Survival Plans (SSPs) as well as promoting pro-wildlife behaviors. We care for eight different species of vultures at the Dallas Zoo, and we take pride in educating our community about the importance of saving these amazing birds.
We care for 8 different vulture species at the Dallas Zoo, several of which are breeding pairs through their respective SSPs. Each season that the bird team welcomes a baby chick is a major success for their endangered species.
Once a chick hatches, the Dallas Zoo bird team works tirelessly to make sure that the precious baby bird has everything he or she needs to thrive. “We check the chick daily to ensure it is in healthy body conditions and to make sure their wings, feet and eyes are all working and growing properly,” Graham says. “We also closely monitor their current weight and adjust their diets as necessary. Because they clean carcasses, we have to provide them with a diverse diet that’s nutritionally balanced.”