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Protecting vultures also safeguards entire ecosystems

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Conservation Status:


  • Vultures clear up to 70% of Africa’s carrion
  • In Africa there are 11 species of vultures
  • West Africa has lost 90% of its white-backed vultures

Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Egyptian Vulture: Neophron percnopterus; Hooded Vulture: Necrosyrtes monachus; White-backed Vulture: Gyps africanus; Rüppell’s Vulture: Gyps reuppelli


1.5 to 11 kilograms (3 to 24 pounds)


58 to 115 centimeters tall (22 to 45 inches)

Life span

Up to 20 years in the wild; up to 37 in captivity


Mountains, savanna, woodlands, desert


Mostly carnivorous


30 to 50 days




Where do vultures live?

With such a variety of vulture species in Africa, these birds can be found in most kinds of habitats. In wooded areas, you’ll find white-backed, palmnut and white-headed vultures; while in arid, semi-desert regions you’ll see Rüppell’s, lappet-faced and hooded vultures. Cape vultures and bearded vultures, meanwhile, can be found in more mountainous areas.

Physical Characteristics

What is a vulture?

Vultures vary in size and appearance depending on their species. Colors range from white to brown to black with white accents, and many species have a bare crown, face and neck, accompanied by a neat or scraggly ruff of feathers.

Behavior & Diet

They’ve got all the right tools.

Unique adaptations make these birds some of the most successful scavengers in Africa. Soaring on updrafts allows them to cover great distances, while strong eyesight enables them to easily detect potential meals. Low pH levels in their stomachs help digest rotting meat quickly and without issue.

Species specialization prevents squabbles over food.

While several species of this bird rely almost exclusively on carrion for sustenance, others, like the Egyptian, lappet-faced and white-headed vulture, are known to hunt fish, reptiles and small mammals. The palmnut vulture even eats fruit!

For those species that do dine on carrion, specialized beaks and behaviors equip them to eat different parts of a carcass, reducing competition for food. For example, bone makes up roughly 85 percent of a bearded vulture’s diet. To get to the nutritious marrow, these birds use their strong beaks to crack open small bones and carry large bones up into the sky, dropping them on rocks below to break them open.

They keep the environment healthy.

They clear up to 70 percent of all the carrion in their ecosystem. In doing so, they help protect other species (including humans and their livestock), by preventing the spread of disease from these carcasses.

  • Vulture African Wildlife Foundation
  • Vulture in flight, African Wildlife Foundation
  • Vulture, African Wildlife Foundation
  • Flying vulture, African Wildlife Foundation
  • Flying vulture, African Wildlife Foundation
  • Vulture African Wildlife Foundation
  • Vulture African Wildlife Foundation

Poachers are poisoning these precious birds.

As the birds flock to animal carcasses, they also give away sites of poachers’ activities. Wanting to remain undetected, poachers have turned their sights on vultures too. What’s more, they are increasingly targeted for their heads, which are widely used in traditional medicine.

Development is depriving them of food and habitat.

As humans expand their communities and agricultural lands, new problems arise for vultures. New infrastructure, like power lines, presents myriad hazardous obstacles for these birds during flight. Meanwhile, agricultural expansion is pushing ungulates out of the bird’s territory, reducing the amount of carrion available to these scavengers.


Our solutions to protecting and conserving vultures:

  • Collaborate with communities.

    We are educating communities on the ecosystem and economic benefits of wildlife and we are also working with communities to set aside protected land for wildlife — in the form of conservancies.

  • Recruit wildlife scouts.

    AWF recruits, trains and equips scouts who protect wildlife from poachers. Wildlife scouts are familiar with landscapes, wildlife and community members. As insiders, they are able to quickly identify any suspicious activity. They monitor ecosystems and work with local authorities, like Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), to help them apprehend poachers and even identify would-be poachers.

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