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Bald is beautiful

Here’s a special-edition Keeper Blog in honor of a big day coming up!

September 2 marks the best day of the year if you love vultures because it’s International Vulture Awareness Day! Even if vultures are not your favorite animals on the planet, and we hope they are, it’s an extremely important day for you as well. The day highlights and raises awareness of the many benefits to having these magnificent creatures in our world! And vultures are just cool. They are smart, they are devoted mates and wonderful parents with long-term bonds.

First of all, vultures are an integral part of the ecosystem and food chain. When taught the basics of a food chain, you learn about producers and consumers, the herbivores and the carnivores, etc. But many times, a certain group gets left out, and that’s the scavengers. Scavengers are incredibly important because they are cleaning up all those leftovers that the carnivores leave behind. They are specially adapted to be able to digest decomposing animals and get rid of all that nasty stuff. They have beautiful bald heads which means fewer bacteria accumulate than if their heads when they are chowing down. Their feces and urates (the white part of their “poop”) have antibacterial properties to help prevent them from getting sick from anything they may step in.

And that is just the beginning. Vultures are immensely important for people! When they are eating carcasses, they are actually digesting and eliminating diseases that hurt us. Anthrax, botulism, cholera and even rabies are just some of the many harmful organisms that these birds help to eliminate from the environment. So, as you can see, vultures are incredibly important to have around.

Unfortunately, vultures in many parts of the world are unjustly persecuted and are suffering from rapid decline in populations. In the last 15 years, the vulture population in India declined by 98 percent. It has resulted in a 34 billion dollar increase in human medical care because vultures no longer clean up carcasses. Africa is currently going through a similar crisis with many of their vulture populations crashing to critically endangered status, in part due to poaching and the intentional poisoning of them. Even here in the U.S., we are seeing declines in populations due to lead shot poisoning and to roadside litter that is attracting vultures to busy highways.

So it is time to stand up and do something about it! Come out to Zoo Atlanta this Saturday, September 2, to learn all you can about vultures and simple ways you can help protect these wonderful and necessary animals. Come see our 11 a.m. bird presentation to meet Baobab, our African hooded vulture, and I will prove to you that vultures are the cutest things on the planet. See you then! And remember, bald is beautiful!
Justin Eckelberry
Keeper II, Birds and Program Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl