Why do Vultures Eat Dead Animals?

Vultures are often characterized as scary, Halloween-esque creatures.  Their appetite for dead flesh doesn’t win them many fans.  If you check the zoo’s Facebook page you’d be hard-pressed to find a “vulture selfie” or “save the vultures” post from any of our followers, but these birds aren’t as ghoulish as their reputation suggests.

International Vulture Awareness Day is this Saturday, September 6 – A day when conservationists and vulture aficionados bring attention to these misunderstood but important creatures.

Back to the question at hand…Why do vultures eat dead animals?  The removal of carrion (a.k.a. rotting flesh) is a necessary link on the food chain.  Vultures can eat rotting flesh that contains anthrax, botulism, and cholera bacteria with no ill effects because acids in the vulture’s stomach destroy these organisms, thereby removing them from our ecosystem.

At the zoo, the vultures eat a commercial meat diet, plus rats and small bones.

Have you ever met one of the zoo’s vultures? Vincent the turkey vulture lives in the Central Zoo across from the lemurs.  He enjoys a morning rodent diet and he’s known for displaying his beautiful, black wingspan throughout the day.  The African Journey is home to four Ruppell’s griffon vultures.  You can find them on the Savannah where they’ll often perch near the pedestrian deck for a photo op!

Stop by and visit the vultures on your next zoo visit…and bring your questions.  Our zoo keepers are happy to talk about these fascinating but misunderstood birds.

Click on the photos to enlarge: