What comes to mind when you hear the word vulture? For most people words like dirty, disgusting, ugly, scavenger, pest, etc… When I think of vultures I think of words like graceful, amazing, beneficial, necessary and mostly, endangered. This difference in perspective is why International Vulture Awareness Day is so important for spreading the word about these amazing caretakers of the earth.
Vultures are nature’s custodians; they are responsible for cleaning the world of animal carcasses and refuse. By cleaning up dead things, vultures reduce the spread of diseases such as botulism. Vultures also act as ecological sentinels. A healthy vulture population reflects a healthy ecosystem, when vultures are in trouble so is the environment. An unfortunate example of an unhealthy vulture population is what is happening currently in Asia – with a mass die-off of vultures attributed to a veterinary drug, the communities formerly kept clean of carcasses by vultures are now overrun by feral dogs, which has increased the level of zoonotic diseases.
Challenges facing vultures on a global level are similar to those facing other species. As the human population grows, vulture habitat shrinks. Logging takes vulture nesting trees and development reduces land for grazing animals, which are the vulture’s primary food source. There are many other threats to vultures. They are not always the direct target, secondary poisoning is a major threat for vultures, especially in Africa. Other reasons for the decline of vultures globally, include power-line collisions, drowning in cattle water tanks and use of body parts in traditional folk medicines.
The first Vulture Awareness Day was held in South Africa in 2006. The focus of this event was to create awareness of the continued plight of all vulture species occurring in the region and to highlight the work done by conservationists to monitor populations and implement effective measures to conserve these birds and their habitats. A one day local activity grew into the first “International” event held on September 5th, 2009; with no less than 152 partner organisations from 45 countries (representing six continents) participating.
September 1st, 2012; marks the fourth International Vulture Awareness Day. The continued growth of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Vulture Specialist Group is at the forefront of this campaign. This group’s aim is to advocate and create awareness of the plight of vultures and coordinate effective conservation activities to their benefit.
The AZA Raptor Taxon Advisory Group would like to encourage and invite all organizations to become participants in this year’s event. Several resources, such as templates and poster formats are available to help share the story of vultures and why they are important to the environment and to us. If you are interested in participating and would like more information please contact the following individuals:
Scott Tidmus, AZA Raptor Taxon Advisory Group Chair –
Jenyva Turner, Animal Keeper, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo –