People often look at me a bit oddly when I say that I love vultures but I don’t see what’s not to love! Saturday September 3 is International Vulture Awareness day and despite the fact that Australia doesn’t have any native vultures, Aussies need to be aware of their importance and their plight in the wild.
Vultures are one of “nature’s recyclers”. By cleaning up carcasses they help to stop the spread of disease among other species, including humans. Vultures are also significant to many cultures as well. The ancient Incans of Peru believed that the sun was carried into the sky on the wings of the Andean Condor and in other parts of the world other species of vultures play a part in the funerary rites of some religious groups..
Since the early 1990s populations of three Asian vulture species have declined catastrophically in India, Pakistan, and Nepal causing them to be classified as Critically Endangered. In India, due to the vulture decline, carcasses are likely to take much longer to be stripped, increasing health risks. Feral dogs are filling the scavenging void, and their growing numbers also increase risks to human health and safety as they often carry rabies.
Fortunately, we know what’s causing this decline. Recent scientific evidence shows that diclofenac (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) is a major cause of decling vulture populations. Vultures are highly susceptible to diclofenac and if they eat an animal carcass soon after it has been treated with the normal veterinary dose of the drug. It is believed vulture populations will only begin to recover if the wild birds stop being exposed to diclofenac.
At Taronga, our resident Andean Condors, Bruce, Connie and Leslie are ambassadors to their wild cousins. Saturday September 3rd, in honour of International Vulture Awareness Day, we will be having extra information and keeper talks at our Condor exhibit over the weekend in order to help raise awareness of this crisis as well as the importance of these majestic birds.
Make sure you stop by the Condors and take some time to appreciate these remarkable birds and be sure not to miss the 12:00 show where Leslie will reveal her spectacular three-meter wing span as she glides down to stage. After see Leslie in flight, I’m sure you’ll appreciate these amazing birds as much as I do!
- Grey Fisher
Senior keeper, QBE-Free-Flight Bird Show