Featured Creatures: Vultures

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Cape Vulture

Vultures play an important role in food webs around the world, as nature’s “cleanup crew.” By consuming carrion, vultures help control the spread of disease and recycle the remains of carcasses back into the ecosystem. The L.A. Zoo is home to five vulture species, and the photos that follow feature just a few of our favorites. To learn more about these magnificent and often misunderstood birds, check out the Zoo’s spectacular World of Birds Show (at 12 and 2:30 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays), where all five of our vulture species have appeared, and explore the California Condor Rescue Zone (CCRZ), our air-conditioned, interactive play space where you can get a glimpse of our resident condors at their hilltop home through live video feeds (open weekends and Los Angeles city holidays). Due to the sensitive nature of our groundbreaking work with California condors, their habitat is not accessible to the public.

Andean Condor: Leadbottom

Leadbottom hatched at the Zoo in 1983 and had to be hand-raised because he kept falling out of his nest—hence his name. After many years with the World of Birds Show, he retired to his current exhibit in the South America section. Our other Andean condors—KC and Sunshine—are currently part of the Bird Show cast.

California Condor: Dolly

Dolly hatched in the wild at Pinnacles National Monument from an egg that was laid at the Oregon Zoo. After her fourth health check in the field, at the age of 120 days, she was observed unable to use her right wing due to a fracture near the shoulder. L.A. Zoo veterinarian and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Klause performed two surgeries to try to repair it, but the break was too high on the upper wing bone (humerus). As a result, the bone would never be stable enough to support flight. The injury precludes her from being housed in a large flight aviary because she might climb to a high perch and be injured attempting to fly from it. Also, keeping her with other birds is risky. Condors can be competitive and antagonistic toward each other, and a bird who cannot escape more aggressive personalities is in danger of being injured. So, the idea was hatched for her to become an ambassador animal—a first for her species—and she has excelled at making connections with people on behalf of California condors everywhere.

The field health checks and veterinary care that Dolly received were part of the California Condor Recovery Program, a collaborative effort between the L.A. Zoo and a host of partner organizations, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish Department, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Department of Fish and Wildlife, the federal government of Mexico, the Yurok Tribe, San Diego Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Chapultepec Zoo, the Peregrine Fund, and the Ventana Wildlife Society. This vital, necessary work has brought the California condor back from the edge of extinction, from just 22 individuals remaining in the wild to a total population of more than 400 and counting.

Cape Vulture: Thelma and Louise

Cape vultures are the only Old World vultures at the Zoo, and animal care staff has worked with this species since 1995.

King Vulture

The distinctive knobby, colorful growths on king vultures’ bills are called caruncles; both males and females have them. You’ll find two king vultures in the South America section of the Zoo.

Northern Black Vulture: Mort

Another vulture you’ll spot in the World of Birds Show is Mort, a northern black vulture. Black vultures and turkey vultures are the most common vultures in North America. Both are large birds with wingspans of five to six feet, but that’s only about half the size of North America’s largest flying bird: the California condor.

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