Vultures at Muncaster

Muncaster Hawk & Owl Centre is home to critically endangered hooded vultures (necrosyrtes monachus). You may even have found this web page after meeting one on your recent visit to Muncaster! Read on to find out why our vulture ambassadors are so vital to our work at MHOC …

Vultures fill a vital ecological niche. They are obligate scavengers – this means they have a diet entirely made up of carrion (dead animals). By consuming a carcass, vultures can eliminate it as a potential harbour for disease and bacteria. The birds have several adaptions which allow them to safely eat carrion – including their iconic bald head, which allows them to reach inside a carcass to eat without getting feathers clogged up on their face and neck, and their strong stomach acid which breaks down bacteria which may be lethal to other animals.

Vultures are also an important indicator species – it means that the health of vulture populations is a biological reflection on the health of the ecosystem.

Emma with Hooded Vultures
Emma and vulture photo by Philip Hatfield

Vultures in the wild & why vulture populations are declining

There are 23 species of vultures which are split into two groups – Old World vultures and New World vultures.

Many of these vulture species are threatened with extinction. Birdlife International call it the vulture crisis. There are several reasons why this is happening:


In Africa, the illegal poaching of mammals such as rhinoceros and elephants is prevalent. As vultures move in to clean up the carcasses of these animals, they can often act as a beacon to gamekeepers and park rangers which will use the vultures to locate poached animals. The poachers, in attempt to cover their tracks, will often lace the body of the poached animal with lethal poisons to kill the vultures. One poisoned elephant carcass can poison hundreds of vultures.


What we can do about it

Captive breeding programmes

One of the most important things we can do within zoological organisations is to create a healthy gene pool amongst captive vultures. With the additional use of studbooks, we can pair up unrelated individuals in hopes that they will breed and further add to this gene pool. This is a critical part of the work that zoos collectively do to safeguard the future of endangered raptors.

Vultures take many years to reach maturity and reproduce slowly, often only raising one chick every 1-2 years. This is another reason why wild breeding vultures are unable to sustain the current population declines in the wild, making each young vulture produced in captivity all the more precious.


Emma with Hooded Vultures