As visitors stroll past the bear exhibits at the Buffalo Zoo, they soon come upon the habitat housing the cinereous vultures. The cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) is also known as the European black vulture or monk vulture. They inhabit mountainous regions of Spain, the Middle East, Northern India, Tibet and Mongolia up to an elevation of 13,000 feet. They have strong, hooked beaks for tearing into carcasses and clawed feet (talons) for grasping prey. Cinereous vultures are listed as “Threatened” due to food shortages, habitat loss from deforestation and poisoning from eating poisoned bait meat meant for other predators (wolves, foxes and jackels).
While those are basic facts about the species, many people may not be aware that the Buffalo Zoo’s cinereous vultures, Vlad and Czari, have proven (after a few false starts) to be good parents. Since 2007, they have successfully raised their last four chicks on their own.
This year, however, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for cinereous vultures “hatched” a new plan. Because the genetics of the adult birds’ offspring are well-represented in the captive cinereous vulture population, the SSP coordinators wanted the Buffalo Zoo to try something different.
Once the Buffalo Zoo pair laid their egg, it would be substituted with an egg produced by another institution’s pair of birds that had not been able to hatch or raise their own chick. While chicks have been hand-reared in the past, it is always preferred that the cinereous vulture parents raise the chicks. The purpose of the switch was to try to increase the chance of having a chick with under-represented genetics be reared by parents of the same species.
Vlad and Czari laid their egg on March 27, 2012 and started incubation. A suitable egg was laid by vultures at the Detroit Zoo on March 18, 2012, and the egg was removed and placed in an incubator there. As the hatch date for the Detroit egg drew near, a swap took place.
On April 19, 2012, the Buffalo Zoo egg was removed, and a wooden model egg was temporarily placed in the nest. Several Buffalo Zoo keepers were enlisted to help with the switch. A keeper drove the Buffalo Zoo egg to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where he met two keepers from the Detroit Zoo and swapped the Buffalo Zoo egg for theirs. Returning to Buffalo, the model egg was removed, and the Detroit egg was placed under the Buffalo Zoo’s birds. Czari and Vlad resumed incubation, little phased by what had transpired.
On May 1, 2012, the Detroit egg pipped and hatched out the next day. (“Pipping” is when a hole appears in the shell of an egg where the chick is attempting to hatch out.)
Staff at the Buffalo Zoo are pleased that Vlad and Czari, who are very protective of this chick, are again doing a wonderful job of parenting. The Buffalo Zoo chick that hatched in 2011 can also be seen next to her parents’ habitat. Vultures are so interesting and ecologically important that September has even been named Vulture Awareness Month. Visitors are invited to celebrate Vulture Awareness Month by stopping by to see them!
Contributing writer: Ron Geiger, Buffalo Zoo keeper