Lappet-faced Vulture

Lappet-faced Vultures, Kenya

Lappet-faced Vultures, Kenya

One of the largest vultures in Africa, Torgos tracheliotos, an Old World vulture, stands more than three feet tall and boasts a wingspan of nine feet.

 

We came upon this pair in a nest at the top of a thorny acacia tree.  The lappet-faced vulture is the most powerful and aggressive of the African vultures, with their large, arched bill and big size.  More lappet-faced info here.

 

Like all vultures, their bald head is crucial for hygiene and thermoregulation.  Old World Vultures (Europe, Africa, Asia) scavenge on carcasses of dead animals.  When a predator takes down a mammal on the African savanna, kills it, there is a succession of scavengers that follow.  Vultures are vital in this process.

 

It is a competitive frenzy, and not pretty.  But quickly the carcass is devoured.  One  time we came upon a pride of lions that had just killed an antelope.  The guide brought us back 24 hours later, and there was not even a bone fragment left in that spot.

 

One African vulture can consume two pounds of meat in a minute.  A productive wake of vultures can completely consume a dead wild zebra in 30 minutes (per Natl. Geo. Jan. 2016).

 

Impala prey, vultures

Impala prey, vultures

Even Charles Darwin called vultures “disgusting.”  But now people are finding out how important vultures are to the African eco-system.

 

Vultures prevent the spread of disease and insect populations, by quickly and efficiently eating dead carcasses.  This is important to humans, livestock, and other wild animals.  Equipped with powerful stomach acid, they can safely digest putrid carcasses loaded with bacteria, that would be lethal to other scavengers.

 

Unfortunately vultures are disappearing from the savanna at an alarming rate, largely due to poisoning, which accounts for 61% of vulture deaths.

 

African farmers, upset with lions for killing their cattle (their livelihood), use inexpensive and severely toxic poison to kill the lions.  Then the vultures die from eating the lion.

 

In addition, poachers poison vultures in order to prevent the overhead kettles of vultures from alerting game wardens of their illegal killing.

 

Most vultures reproduce relatively slowly, not reaching a sexual maturity until 5-7 years old, and only producing one chick every 1-2 years.

 

This combination of rapid decline, with slow maturation and breeding, has brought the African vulture population to a troubling point.  In October 2015 the lappet-faced status was listed as endangered.

 

Often times it is not easy to see the benefits of some creatures in the environment, until they begin to disappear and we see the ecological upset.

 

Fortunately the movement to save vultures and prevent poisonings has risen.  Groups like VulPro (click here) and many other conservationists are working toward preventing further decline.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

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62 thoughts on “Lappet-faced Vulture

  1. Thank you for the very interesting and eye opening article about the African Lappet-faced Vulture. Your research and knowledge is a great service and resource to us all. Have a great weekend Jet.

    • Thanks so much, Sharon, for your kind comment. It’s a joy to share the info, and the research & writing keeps me on my toes. You know how that goes with your constant drawing. You, too, have a great weekend! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for educating us on vultures in Africa. Good to know how important they are to the eco-system in Africa and the movement to save them. Great post, Jet!
    BTW, I have seen them in Texas. 🙂

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed the vulture post, Amy, and of course very glad to hear you’ve seen them in TX. Vultures on this “side of the pond” aren’t disappearing like in Africa or India, fortunately. My thanks to you, dear Amy.

  3. Wow, two pounds in a minute! I can see why these folks would want to kill the vultures but there must be a better alternative than killing. Doing so looks like a vicious cycle that won’t end until it’s too late.

    • You certainly nailed that situation down correctly, John. It is astounding how quickly they clean up the bacteria and mess. And yes, I agree, there must be a better way to work it out. I am happy to report that there are devoted people working on the alternatives. Many thanks!

  4. Their stately heads and fancy feather collars are so majestic! Thanks for the beautiful photos and interesting article :-). Sad to read about the vulture and lion poisoning. Glad there are people working to improve this situation. Poisoning often seems to be a very short-sighted solution with bad longterm consequences. I think it is super cool that vultures can eat rotting carcasses. I’m curious – how did those antelope bones disappear so quickly?

    • Hi Myriam! Thanks for your great comment and question. The antelope in the second photo was from a different country (Zambia), and we did not return to that site to see the carcass. But there are a variety of wild animals who can crush bones and horns, like the hyena. And you’re right about poisoning, anywhere, anytime: it is a short-sighted solution with bad long-term consequences. Thanks so much, my friend.

  5. What an informative post. I have always had a bit of love/hate relationship with these creatures. On the one hand I can understand why Charles Darwin called them ‘disgusting’ – but on the other hand it is clear that they are absolutely necessary in preserving the fine balance of life. You quote some amazing statistics…..especially their ability to consume two pounds of meet in one minute! Also your experience of returning to one of their feeds 24 hours later to find absolutely no evidence of remains….extraordinary. Thank you and have a beautiful weekend…..Janet:)

    • I so enjoyed your comment, Janet, because I think many of us humans feel a similar way about vultures. They are not as endearing as baby rhinos, or as beautiful as, well, just about any animal. But now is a good time to embrace even the not-so-pretty vultures. Thanks so much for your input. And have a wonderful weekend! My best wishes to you! 😀

  6. Great post, especially as it relates to the harm we do to our environment thinking we are protecting something else…nature is infinitely more wise in keeping things in balance than we will ever be…

  7. I had seen some documentary that dug into the ripple effects of poison killing off the vultures. It never ceases to amaze me how little regard we humans seem to have for the critters and plants that sustain us.

  8. What an astonishing bird! You’ve increased my appreciation and understanding. Our ecosystems are so fragile, and each player in the food chain is so necessary – “unattractive” or otherwise…
    Wonderful post, Jet, and a real demonstration of the need to dig a little deeper!

    • It is a complete joy for me to share this information with someone as receptive as you, pc. Thank you so very much. I hope this weekend is filled with the mtn adventures you so enjoy. 🙂

  9. Compelling post in every way,dear Jet!When I saw the first photo with the pair of the powerful birds,on the tree,I thought they were wild Turkeys on a bush.The second photo,with the “poor” Impala,is also interesting with the Lappet-faced Vultures ready to start the feast.You’ve stated important data concerning the bird’s role in the eco-system.No living organism and creature,on this planet,exist for nothing.All well-balanced to sustain life harmoniously.I’ ve also watched twice,up to now,the “Beauty within the Beast” video and the Conservation centre video,I am absolutely stunned.I hope your readers won’t overlook them.I was so sad to read that they are poisoned by the poachers and indirectly by the farmers,who poison Lions,oh gosh I cannot believe It,it hurts me,they should have found other means to protect their cattle.Thank you my friend for this fascinating post.Have a nice weekend 🙂 .•*¨`• ❣… xxX

    • I really appreciate your contribution to avenues of awareness re conservation, dear Doda. And I am glad you enjoyed the vulture post. Thank you so much for your valuable insight and continued interest and support. And happy leap day!

  10. Very interesting post, Jet! These guys are not pretty, but they are a necessary and productive part of the ecosystem. I just read about their deaths in big numbers too after seeing another type of vulture in Kenya earlier this month. So sad.

    • The bare skin on the vulture helps the bird regulate its internal temperature. Thanks so much Resa, for your visits and interest, they are always appreciated. 🙂

  11. What an impact you have! My internal conversation started from the photo at the top (“why on earth do we need such an ugly, disgusting and gross bird”) to the conservation info at the bottom (” what a blessing to have folks who know, appreciate, care and do something about nature imbalances”). And that includes you, Jet.

    • I am thrilled to have lent an understanding moment to you, Nan, about the importance of every lovely creature on this earth. Thanks so much for your warm comment.

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