On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Are You Aware That Vultures Are Amazing?

Griffon vulture. Image via Wikipedia.

Griffon vulture. Image via Wikipedia.

Today (September 3rd, 2011) has been declared, in a joint effort by the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme and The Hawk Conservancy Trust, to be International Vulture Awareness Day. This annual holiday, celebrated the first Saturday of September, “is dedicated to the splendor of vultures across the globe and the critically important services they provide in our environment.”

What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of vultures? It’s okay to admit it if it’s not “splendor.” Maybe “ugly,” “scavenger” or “death” are more likely. And that just illustrates exactly why International Vulture Awareness Day is so necessary. For example, did you know that…

  • …there are over twenty species of vulture, a classification which includes both New World vultures (family Cathartidae) and Old World vultures (family Accipitridae, subfamily Aegypiinae)?
  • …vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica?
  • …a vulture can eat up to 10% of her body weight in a single meal?
  • …vultures consume up to 70% of all the available meat in East Africa?
  • …in the majority of cases, it is the high-flying and easily-spotted vultures who lead larger predators to dead animals, not the other way around?
  • …globally, vultures are the most endangered class of avians?
  • …in Masai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya, the vulture population has declined by nearly 50% in recent years due to poisoning of their food supply by local farmers intent on getting revenge on livestock-killing predators?
  • …in Asia, some vulture species are teetering on the brink of extinction, their populations having declined by a whopping 99% in just 15 years?
Critically-endangered California condors. Image via Wikipedia.

Critically-endangered California condors. Image via Wikipedia.

What’s worth saving about vultures? Vultures are an evolutionary wonder, their bald heads designed specifically for the unencumbered consumption of dead flesh, as well as to help the birds stay cool in the hot environments they typically inhabit. Furthermore, their stomach acid is incredibly powerful, allowing them to digest meat without any fear of contracting diseases such as botulism, cholera, or anthrax, lethal to most animals. Some can even use their corrosive vomit as a defense mechanism when threatened! (Gross, yes, but totally cool.) DNA comparison of New World vultures and Old World vultures has shown that the two families aren’t closely related at all, but are in fact a remarkable example of convergent evolution, when two species or groups develop similar features independently of each other in completely different areas of the world. Old World vultures find their food exclusively by sight, whereas New World vultures are more likely to rely on smell, an adaptation which sets them apart from other raptors.

No matter what kind of vulture you’re dealing with, it’s an undeniable fact that these misunderstood birds play a vital environmental role. We’ve all seen footage of vultures feeding on the putrid carcass of some unfortunate wildebeest or zebra out in the savannah. Now imagine what that landscape would look like if the vultures weren’t there… Yeah. A desert littered in the corpses of dead and rotting beasts wouldn’t be such a pretty sight. Now you begin to get the picture as to why vultures are so important. Hopefully you’re even coming to believe that vultures, well, rock!

Stayed tuned to this blog as well as our Facebook page for more interesting vulture tidbits coming up throughout the day. It’s vitally important that humans start recognizing and appreciating the true awesomeness of vultures – before it’s too late.

Facts via Vultures Rock.

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One response to “Are You Aware That Vultures Are Amazing?

  1. Pingback: Turkey Vultures Along The Tanque Verde Wash « Becoming is Superior to Being

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