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Saving our scavengers

Although a lot of my day as a member of the Bird Care 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 the plan for African vultures was officially approved 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 might actually remove harmful bacteria and viruses from the environment!

To combat these threats, African Vulture SAFE has four focus programs helping vultures in-situ in different countries in Africa: Botswana (Denver Zoo, Kalahari Research and Conservation, and Raptors Botswana), 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! One of the most powerful tools that we have to reach a large number of people is celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). This year, IVAD is on Saturday, September 5. If you want to learn more about vultures and African vulture SAFE, come visit us! Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at the Zoo!

What can YOU do to help African vultures?

  • Come visit the vultures who live here at Zoo Atlanta!
  • Post on social media to celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day on Saturday, September 5 using the hashtags #IVAD2020, #SaveOurScavengers, #VultureSAFE
  • Visit https://www.raptortag.com/safe.html for more information about SAFE and get some ideas for fun activities for home or school!
  • 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!

Taylor R.
Keeper III, Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl