Among birds of prey, vultures have an unsavoury reputation for being repulsive. If their appearance isn’t unsettling enough their association with death does the trick. Although they might not be the most beautiful birds these scavengers are a vital part of an ecosystem. The processing of natural organisms is important and vultures assume the thankless task of cleaning up the environment one corpse at a time.
Imagine if carcasses were left burning in the heat for weeks. They’d become a breeding ground for disease and other animals and people would be at risk. Vultures are known to have strong stomach acids capable of destroying bacteria such as cholera and anthrax. For example, Bearded Vultures are the only animals with a diet of 70-90% bone. The birds carry special antibodies to help deal with botulism toxins. So even if their prey was killed by illness they can eat without being affected.
Despite their hardiness, vultures have fallen on rough times. Populations in India, Nepal and Pakistan have dropped by 95% and it’s being felt in Africa too. The birds are being poisoned by carcasses, and in some cases it’s because they’ve been targeted by poachers who don’t want wardens being alerted to dead elephants and rhinos.
CHANGING OUR PERCEPTION
In the wake of this struggle, some people are taking a stand and pushing for change. Kerri Wolter of Vulpro has dedicated her time to the conservation of vultures. In her opinion they are an integral part of the environment.
“We’ve got to lift the profile of vulture species to the same level as rhino, we’ve got to get people to acknowledge they are important.”
Vulpro makes sure species are treated with respect. GPS tracking devices are used to determine the range and habitats of a number of birds across South Africa. Their objectives lie in healing and protecting wounded vultures and reintroducing them through sophisticated breeding programs.
Wolter feels connected to vultures because of their struggle to survive. “They are nature’s true beauty which completes the circle of life and keeps us, our world safer from the spread of unnecessary diseases.”
Only time will tell if society can look beyond their deathly reputation. But it’s organisations like Vulpro that are leading the way for change and more should follow the example. All animals have a purpose and all animals deserve to survive.
What do you think of vultures? Should more be done to keep them safe?
For more information on Vulpro you can go to http://www.vulpro.com