Tag Archives: vulture

Keeping the savannah clean- but they’ve only 100 years left on this planet

bee-elle-6049Botfly larvae, rotting skin, anthrax and rabies- you name it. They will clean it all up. If it weren’t for them, the savannah would be ridden by all sorts of bacteria and disease. But we might lose them all in under 100 years.

The largest vulture in Africa is the Lappet-faced, pictured here. They will aggressively swoop, pounce and caw at anyone getting in their way- including hyena and jackals- of a tasty meal of rotting flesh. Anyone except for humans, who are, ironically, the very reason why they are on the verge of extinction.

Vultures are reportedly the most threatened bird group in the world. About 2/3 of deaths of vultures are by poisoning by pastoralists protecting their livestock, and ivory poachers who don’t want vultures circling above their activities, which will give away their location. About 1/3 are killed for traditional medicine, which some locals believe can provide man with Superman powers. The remaining deaths are caused by them flying into power lines and wind turbines.

Back to the main reason for their deaths. A cheap, generic brand of Furadan, a pesticide, is being used by pastoralists to lace carcasses to lure in the lions to protect their livestock. Lions eat the poison, lions die, vultures eat the lion, vultures die.

A cow can fetch up to US$30- an understandably prized and necessary asset for pastoralists. But if proper management plans are not implemented immediately to address these issues, this will spell the end of vultures within the next century. If that happens, anarchy will ensue: ecosystems will be ridden with disease, the balance will be upset, and many other creatures will be killed in its wake.

Measures must be ramped up and implemented now to ensure humans can live peacefully and sustainably alongside wildlife. For this much is clear: Africa cannot live without vultures.


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The ultimate recyclers

Portrait of a lappet-faced vulture standing in the plains of the Maasai Mara.

Although these guys often get a bad rap, they play a crucial recycling role in ecosystems. These magnificent birds can break through tough hides and eat skin and bone, and with their highly acidic stomachs, are able to digest rotting carcasses that others simply cannot digest. In so doing, they help prevent the spread of bacteria and disease, making a cleaner environment for all.

Restoring the balance

The wide wing spans of lappet-faced vultures mean that they can glide through the air for long periods without needing to beat their wings often, except for when they take flight, as this one was about to do.

These Old World vultures are known to aggressively pounce in and intimidate others around a feast of carcass. Fighting for food was never meant to be easy. But when it’s time for these birds to roost, they are usually seen peacefully perched at the top of tall acacia trees, where they build broad flat nests. And during sunset, when one sees tens of vulture silhouettes atop these iconic trees of the savannah- these massive birds can be seen as powerful and majestic, as they well and truly are.

While the role of the scavenger is well known to be crucial, they seem to have an unfavourable reputation, similar to other scavengers like the Marabou stork and the hyena. Every creature plays a significant role in the ecosystem. Here’s to the vulture, and its contribution to the natural balance of things.