Vultures: Nature’s Clean-Up Crew

vultures at nambiti game reserve

Vultures: Nature’s Clean-Up Crew

South Africa is home to eight regularly occurring and breeding vulture species, three of which can be found at Nambiti Big 5 Private Game Reserve: The Lappet-Faced vulture, the Cape vulture and the White-Backed vulture.

All three of these species are Old World Vultures, which means that they find carcasses exclusively by sight. Old World Vultures are found in the ‘Old World’ – throughout continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. Both New World and Old World Vultures are scavengers which feed primarily from the carcasses of dead animals. Unlike New World Vultures, Old World Vultures do not have a good sense of smell and thus locate their meals by sight.

When they come across a carcass too tough for them to open, the smaller Cape and White-Backed vultures will wait for the much larger Lappet-Faced vulture to move in and open the carcass; they will then join in the feast.

Vultures play an important ecological role as scavengers, especially in hot regions, as they are able to consume rotten meat filled with bacteria which would otherwise escape into the environment and cause disease. Due to the acidity of their stomachs, vultures are able to safely digest putrid carcasses infected with botulinum toxin, hog cholera bacteria and anthrax bacteria; carcasses that would be lethal to other scavengers like jackal and hyena.

10 things we bet you didn’t know about vultures

  1. Vultures are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.
  2. Vultures lay only one egg every year (sometimes not even one a year).
  3. A vulture can eat up to 1kg of meat in a single meal.
  4. In East Africa, vultures consume up to 70% of all available meat.
  5. Vultures are nature’s ultimate clean-up crew – they can strip a carcass in just a few hours, keeping the environment clean and disease-free.
  6. In many places around South Africa, people have set up vulture “restaurants” – feeding sites where carcasses are left out for vultures to dispose of carcasses and ensure that vultures have enough food.
  7. Vultures’ huge wingspans allow them to soar to amazing heights, which means that they can scour the earth below for any signs of a potential meal.
  8. The Lappet-Faced vulture has a wingspan of 2.9 metres.
  9. An amazing lung system utilises even the smallest amount of oxygen effectively to accommodate a vulture’s high-flying habits.
  10. Cape vultures and White-Backed vultures have unusual grooved and serrated tongues which allow them to get to soft flesh which they may not be able to access with their beaks.

Coming across these gigantic scavenger birds as they go about their business of helping keep the balance of nature, is a captivating sight. We hope you’ll come to visit Nambiti soon so that we can share sightings of these fascinating foragers with you.