Vultures may have a bad rap, but they have an important job to do—they are nature's garbage collectors! Their specialized digestive system helps them clean up nasty stuff that would normally lie around.
“As unattractive as some people think vultures are, they are pretty cool and important,” says Peter Shannon, curator of birds at the ABQ BioPark Zoo.
The zoo has four species of vulture—the black vulture, Andean condor, Cape griffon vulture and the lappet-faced vulture.
Despite their importance, vultures have faced decline in the past decade, especially in Africa and Asia where humans have poisoned and killed predators like jackals and hyenas—this directly affects vultures, because they feed on the carcasses of these animals and thus ingest the poisons.
Several vulture species are close to extinction, including the Cape griffon, whose population has been affected by the use of antibiotics in cattle. The zoo currently has four adult Cape griffon vultures, which have been on loan from the Los Angeles Zoo since 2004. The ABQ BioPark is one of only six U.S. facilities who keep the Cape griffon, and it welcomed its first chick in 2014. Because of its threatened status, the Cape griffon is part of a Species Survival Plan, which helps ensure the survival of animals that are threatened or endangered in the wild.
Our Actions Matter
Vulture populations are slowly recovering due to conservation initiatives. You can back vulture conservation by supporting organizations such as the Vulture Conservation Foundation, VulPro and SAVE Vultures.