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Some important members of nature's clean-up crew come with wings.

Cape Griffon Vultures

Posted September 5, 2013. Photo courtesy of Amy Landers/ABQ BioPark.

While they may not win your typical beauty contest, vultures play a vital role in ecosystems across North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Vultures act as nature’s recyclers, feeding on carrion and breaking down carcasses.

The Cape Griffon vulture (Gyps coprotheres) hails from southern Africa and is the largest vulture on the continent. Unfortunately, in Africa many carcasses are poisoned to keep predators away from the livestock. This unintentionally poisons the vultures, leading to their endangered status.

It seems fitting that this year’s International Vulture Awareness Day takes place during the week of the burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe. Just as burning the large effigy represents getting rid of the woes from the previous year, so vultures get rid of the death and decay in the environment.

Learn more about vultures at International Vulture Awareness Day, September 7 at the ABQ BioPark.

Who should win the Vulture Beauty Contest? Vote for your favorite species starting Friday afternoon on Facebook.

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