Text and photographs by Laila Bahaa-el-din
Vultures are in trouble worldwide. In East Africa, the deliberate poisoning of carnivores is leading to the demise of vultures, while in southern Africa, vulture parts are used in witchcraft and in West Africa, loss of habitat and their use as bush meat are proving catastrophic. In South Asia, vulture populations plummeted by 95 percent in just a decade as a result of consuming the carcasses of cows that had been treated with the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac. In Europe, strict health regulations mean that all carcasses are disposed of, leaving no food for the vultures.
Bearded Vulture at Ol Donyo Laro, Kenya
Hooded Vulture in the Mara, Kenya
What to do? The general public doesn’t get up in arms about vultures. We can’t make emotional appeals based around cute and cuddly animals. The world needs to sit up and take notice of this crisis, if not for the vultures’ sakes, then for their own. Vultures have the unfortunate reputation of being dirty. The truth is that they not only clean up everybody else’s mess by consuming carcasses that would otherwise encourage diseases and pests such as rats, but they also are meticulous in washing themselves, finding water to bathe in daily when they can.
Black Vulture head in the Osa, Costa Rica
Black Vultures in the Osa, Costa Rica
So it is that vultures need an image make-over and serious awareness-raising. September 5, 2009 is International Vulture Awareness Day so wherever you are in the world, do a little something that might help spread the message that vultures need our help and fast. Here in Kenya, the Raptor Working Group, made of biologists, photographers and other interested individuals, has been organising a fair at the National Museum for the weekend of September 5-6th. I will be dressing up as a vulture as part of the awareness-raising entertainment and hope to show children what fun animals vultures are. There is going to be a national art competition, puppet show, story-telling and other activities that will hopefully lead to people looking at vultures in a new light. If you’re in Nairobi, come and join us there.
Cape Vulture at Kransberg, South Africa
Cleanup Crew – King Vulture and Black Vultures in the Osa, Costa Rica
We owe a big Thank You to the African Bird Club which has been so generous in its sponsorship of the upcoming event.
To see how you can take part, visit the International Vulture Awareness Day Web site: www.ivad09.org
Egyptian Vulture at Ololokwe, Kenya
Young King Vultures in the Osa, Costa Rica
King Vulture in the Osa, Costa Rica
Lappet-faced Vulture in the Mara, Kenya
Long-billed Vulture at Bandhavgarh, India
Ruppell’s Vulture in the Mara, Kenya
Smooching Lappets in the Mara, Kenya
Turkey Vulture in the Osa, Costa Rica
Turkey Vulture over the Pacific on Costa Rican coast
White-headed Vulture female in Etosha, Namibia