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Young Cape Griffon Vulture Being Raised by Parents

Rare Vulture Chick Hatches at Zoo

Cape Griffon vulture parents and two-week old chick in the Zoo's Africa Aviary.

March 21, 2014

A pair of Cape Griffon vultures successfully hatched a chick and are raising it in the Africa Aviary at the ABQ BioPark Zoo. Cape Griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres) are rare in the wild, and only two other U.S. zoos have successfully bred the birds.

Zookeepers have observed the pair nesting for three years, and on February 26, the pair hatched their first chick. They take turns brooding the young bird and feeding it regurgitated, partially-digested food.

"Not many zoos breed large vultures, which can take 3-4 years before they actually produce a chick, as we saw with our pair," said Peter Shannon, curator of birds. "By maintaining captive groups of vultures, we help to ensure the survival of the species should some calamity occur in the wild population."

A calamity is very possible for the wild population of Cape Griffon vultures, which are designated as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The birds' range is limited to a small area in southern Africa. Scientists have seen significant declines in their numbers due to electrocution on power lines and accidental poisoning.

Around the world, vultures are in crisis. "In Asia, they've lost 98% of the populations of other species," said Shannon. "A drug [diclofenac] used in cattle rearing is deadly to vultures, and they ingest it when they consume the flesh of a dead cow. The drug is officially off the market, but still available. Now, we're seeing African vultures being affected." Farmers are also lacing carcasses with other types of poison to kill large predators that threaten their livestock. The vultures doing the important clean-up work end up dying, too.

Guests can look for the chick in the nest on the far wall of the aviary in the Zoo's Africa exhibit, which is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily and included with regular admission.

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