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Saving our scavengers

Although a lot of my day as a member of the Bird Team is spent caring for the animals here at the Zoo, I also devote as much time as I can to working on conservation initiatives to help the birds in my care, as well as their wild counterparts. A lot of conservation work that the Zoo and its team members do happens behind the scenes, so I want to spend a little time talking about just one of the conservation projects going on, the one nearest and dearest to my heart: African Vulture SAFE.

So, what is African Vulture SAFE? SAFE—or Saving Animals from Extinction—is an initiative from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) intended to coordinate and focus the conservation efforts of AZA institutions on specific taxa in order to increase conservation impact. Dr. Corinne Kendall, the Curator of Conservation and Research at North Carolina Zoo, is heading up the African Vulture SAFE Program, and African vultures were officially selected as a SAFE species in March 2018. Zoo Atlanta signed on as one of the early program partners, and I am lucky to be our representative on the African Vulture SAFE Steering Committee. That means I’m part of a group of zoo professionals from around North America joining forces to raise funding for four focus conservation programs, as well as spread the word about how important it is to #saveourscavengers!

Two of the most pressing threats to vultures are poisoning—both accidental and intentional—and collisions with man-made structures. Unfortunately, the populations of many species of African vultures have declined by over 80% in just the past 30 years. This African vulture crisis is a huge problem for vultures … and for us. Avian scavengers are critically important to human health and the health of their ecosystem. Not only do they act as nature’s clean-up crew, but they actually remove harmful bacteria and viruses from the environment, which keeps us healthy!

To combat these threats, African Vulture SAFE has three focus programs helping vultures in-situ in different countries in Africa: Tanzania (North Carolina Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Society), Kenya (The Peregrine Fund), and South Africa (VulPro). Each program is working on the ground to directly address threats facing vultures, research vulture ecology and behavior in order to better understand their needs and the health of their populations, and educate the people who share their ecosystem with vultures to try and spread awareness and gain vulture allies.

In addition to helping vultures in the wild, African Vulture SAFE also aims to educate visitors to zoos, aquariums, nature centers, schools … or anywhere that we can! If you want to learn more about vultures and African Vulture SAFE, come visit us here at the Zoo. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you soon!

What can YOU do to help African vultures?

  • Post on social media using the hashtags #saveourscavengers, #makeitSAFEforvultures, and #AZAVultureSAFE
  • Visit https://www.raptortag.com/safe.html for more information about SAFE and get some ideas about how to spread the word about vultures.
  • Look for vultures in your own backyard! Although SAFE’s target species are vultures who don’t live here in Georgia, we want to appreciate and protect our local vultures before their populations decline. We need them to stay healthy so that we can stay healthy!

Kelsey K.
Keeper I, Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl