This Weekend, Get Into Vulture Culture

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The L.A. Zoo is celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day with a variety of activities and events. Photo by Tad Motoyama

The Los Angeles Zoo will celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day on Saturday, September 1 with a day of education and fun spotlighting nature’s cleanup crew! Activities take place at Entry Plaza, the California Condor Rescue Zone, Witherbee Theater, and in the South America Section, which is home to our Andean condor and king vulture. We’re also proud to present a special vulture-focused program at the World of Birds Show at the Angela Collier World of Birds Theater. Join us!


The California Condor Rescue Zone offers children many opportunities to explore different facets of conservation. Photo by Jamie Pham

VULNERABLE VULTURES: Ensuring that Scavengers Carry On for Generations to Come


The Los Angeles Zoo has a long history with Cape vultures. Photo by Tad Motoyama

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.”


The L.A. Zoo has enjoyed more than 20 years of breeding success with Cape vultures. Photo by Jamie Pham


L.A. Zoo resident Topa Topa Photo by Jamie Pham


  • International Vulture Awareness Day – Home Page: More than 100 organizations worldwide participate in International Vulture Awareness Day! See the list here.
  • Andean Condor: The Andean condor is one of the world’s largest flying birds. Learn more about them and visit our resident Andean condor, Leadbottom.
  • Black Vulture: Black vultures are the most common vulture in the Western Hemisphere. Discover more about their distribution and their unique family ties.
  • King Vulture: The king vulture was seen by the ancient Mayans as a messenger between gods and humans. Visit these colorful carrion-eaters in the South America section.
  • Look at these Vivacious Vultures: Read last year’s Zoo Blog post for International Vulture Awareness Day.
  • “Soaring With Condors (Part I): Shell Game”: The L.A. Zoo has played a key role in rehabilitating the endangered California condor. Visit our blog to find out how Zoo staff contribute to the California Condor Recovery Program.