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)
Up to 20 years in the wild; up to 37 in captivity
Mountains, savanna, woodlands, desert
30 to 50 days
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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