International Vulture Awareness Day is recognized on September 3 around the world. While most people may not call them cute, vultures are an important part of keeping humans and the environment healthy. Vultures have a very specific job in nature and are well-equipped for it; they play a key role in helping prevent the spread of diseases. As most people already know, vultures are scavengers. They eat what other animals will not, usually decaying animals called carrion.
Sometimes, these dead animals have diseases that could spread to other animals or humans, but vultures have special acids in their stomach that are able to destroy many kinds of deadly bacteria, like cholera, anthrax and rabies. By eating the carrion, the vultures help reduce the spread of disease that could make humans and other animals sick.
Vultures are fascinating animals for a number of reasons. Here are just a few:
1) Have you ever wondered why vultures have mostly bald heads? This helps them stay healthy! By not having many feathers on their head, vultures are able to eat from the carrion without the bacteria sticking to them.
2) Most people believe that when they see a vulture circling in the air it has found food. This is actually false. While vultures often spot their meals from the sky, they may be circling for another reason. Vultures have large wings that allow them to catch rising hot air thermals, or areas of warm air caused by the sun heating the ground. This means they can soar in the sky looking for food without using much energy. The circling motion is usually just the vultures’ way of staying in the column of rising air to conserve energy for the longest time possible.
3) Vultures are considered endangered due to two major issues. Like many animals, one of the biggest threats is habitat loss. Vultures nest on cliffs and in trees, but they also need access to space used by grazing animals, which are one of their primary food sources. Vultures also face poisoning from pesticides. Pesticides can be harmful to the grazing animals, which in turn, leads to being harmful to the vultures.
4) Vultures are nature’s recyclers, because they help keep the world clean, and you can too! Be the clean-up crew in your community by spending time outdoors picking up trash and recycling. You can also reduce your use of harmful pesticides to keep habitats healthy for the wildlife that depend on them.
Next time you visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom and walk through Discovery Island and Rafiki’s Planet Watch, or visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Jambo House or Kidani Village, take a moment to find the vultures and say thank you for keeping our world clean and healthy!