Vultures in Africa’s food chain

I learnt this week that International Vulture Day occurs on the first Saturday in September each year.  So this year falls on 3rd of September which amazingly (the year is flying by) is this coming weekend.  The event was started by the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme and its partners and associates.  There are a few organizations worldwide highlighting this cause and it even has its own Awareness Day Wikispace.

I have learnt that there are 2 distinct groups of vultures – Old World Vultures and New World Vultures.  Old World vultures live in Africa, Asia and Europe and the latter New World Vultures prefer the warmer more temperate climate of the Americas.  South Africa is home to 9 vulture species, 7 of which face the threat of extinction.

There are many factors that have contributed to the endangered status of vultures.  Some of these include:  poisoning, persecution, power lines, drowning and shortage of food in drier countries.  There has also been an increase in the illegal trade of live birds, and a greater use of the bird in traditional medicine.  A final very interesting fact is their loss of habitat – amazingly to the increasing population of elephants.  Less trees means less nesting!  So ironically in saving the one, you are tampering with the environment of another!

A few other interesting points that I found in my reading:

–  There are 23 species of vulture in total
–  Between Old World and New World Vultures are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica
–  Old World Vultures don’t have a good sense of smell but have unbelievable eyesight, being able to spot a small animal carcass from 4 miles away
–  Vultures can eat up to 20 times their body weight in one sitting
–  All are scavengers and specialize in feeding on carcasses
–  Vultures have a digestive system that contains special acids that dissolve anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria
–  They are social birds which means you will often see several feeding together on the same carcass.  By consuming carcasses vultures help prevent the spread of life-threatening diseases.  Therefore, they too are very important in natures food chain.

And my final word – did you know that a group of vultures is called a venue, and when they are circling in the air they are known as a kettle!

Play your part in International Vulture Awareness Day – Saturday 3rd of September!

Lappet-faced vulture taken by photographer Stefano Pesarelli