Vultures have fascinated humans for ages. As scavengers, they herald death, though they do not bring it, and in many spiritual traditions they are viewed as messengers who connect the realms of the living and the dead. In myths and legends, they are associated with deities and immortality, but, in reality, they are falling victim to an increasing variety of human hazards—from unintentional toxic effects of lead bullets and veterinary drugs in the carcasses they eat, to habitat loss and deliberate killing by poachers who don’t want the birds calling attention to their illegal hunting activity and farmers who mistakenly blame these raptors for livestock losses.
Last year, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in North America, announced the addition of African vultures to its SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction® (SAFE) initiative. Species eligible for the SAFE program are threatened with extinction, have a history of two or more AZA-accredited facilities engaged in their conservation, and have active recovery or conservation plans. Of the world’s 23 species of vulture, seven are New World species and 11 of the remaining 16 are native to Africa. Of those, seven—including the Cape vulture, a species that has long been featured at the L.A. Zoo—are classified endangered or critically endangered.
The Zoo is collaborating with Denver Zoo, Kalahari Research and Conservation, and Raptors Botswana to save Cape vultures and four other endangered and critically endangered species in Botswana.
The Los Angeles Zoo has a long history with the Cape vulture, a stunning species limited to a small range in southern Africa. Since 1996, the Zoo’s breeding group has produced 27 chicks. Now, the Zoo is collaborating with Denver Zoo, Kalahari Research and Conservation, and Raptors Botswana to save Cape vultures and four other endangered and critically endangered species in Botswana: white-backed vulture, hooded vulture, white-headed vulture, and lappet-faced vulture. This project will address key gaps in our knowledge of these birds, engage local communities in protecting them, and train poison first‐responders. It aligns with five strategic objectives of the SAFE program and will help realize the larger goal of securing viable vulture populations in Botswana through sound science, honest community engagement, and capacity building. The overarching goal for this project is to reduce the rapid decline of vultures and ultimately restore viable populations in Botswana.
“Events like International Vulture Awareness Day… are so important.”
“African and Asian vulture populations are plummeting out of control,” Curator of Birds Mike Maxcy explains. “The L.A. Zoo is proud to be a partner in AZA’s African Vulture SAFE Program. The main goal of this action plan is to improve the population status of five species, include the Cape vulture, in at least 25 percent of their African range by 2020. Public awareness will be critical in the success of this program. That’s why events like International Vulture Awareness Day, in which the L.A. Zoo has participated for the last few years, are so important.”