Story Behind The Lens #5 – Misinterpreted Scavengers of the Dead

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Misinterpreted Scavengers of the Dead

When someone mentions vultures the first thing you think of is dark birds of prey that feed and scavenge off the flesh of rotting carcasses. But how naive are we really? We got to witness first hand that these birds may not be as cute as a penguin in the animal world, but once you find out how important they are to our ecosystem and see them in the wild they are truly fascinating.

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Vultures do not hunt live prey but rather feed off carcasses that help stop the spread of disease. Reality is, they are the clean-up crew if carrion is not eaten it will go through a slow rot. This smell attracts flies and disease carrying bugs. If the carcass is not taken care of quickly it can also seep into underground water systems polluting water for other animals and even humans.

Vultures can eat even the most rotten meat and not at all affected by bacteria that would kill any other animal. Their stomach acid is so caustic it kills off viruses and bacteria. They have been known to eat meat infected with Botulinum toxin, hog cholera, and anthrax bacteria, deadly microbes.

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In Asia, livestock carcasses laced with the painkiller Diclofenac wiped out 95 percent of three vulture species in just 15 years before nations began banning the drug in 2006. Due to the decrease of vultures, feral dogs and rats were feeding on disease-ridden carcasses, it is believed to have caused the rabies outbreak that was estimated to have killed 48,000 people from 1992-2006 in India. These are deaths that could have been avoided.

Vultures are at threat for many different reasons across the globe. Humans poison them for traditional medicine and poachers poison them to hide their illegal poaching. Many vultures fly into power lines and get electrocuted or have even known to drown in water tanks. But with the right education and awareness these incredible birds could one day be taken off the endangered list.

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In South Africa just off the Southern Coastline of KZN there is a protected site with hope for these birds. On a cliff in the Oribi Gorge region there is a resident breeding colony of over 200 Cape Vultures. Considering there are only 8000 left of this species this colony is of great importance. We had the privilege to witness the vultures soar through the thermals in this magnificent view.  They truly put on an incredible display for us. Their breading and resting site was in full view in the cliff face, just a few meters from us. I now have a new respect for these truly fascinating creatures. There are a handful of people who are working together to preserve them for the better of mankind.

Have you ever seen a vulture in the wild? What is your impression of these “Misinterpreted Scavengers of the Dead”?  Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Read this weeks "Story Behind The Lens" This story behind this photo's is about the Cape Vultures and how important they are to our ecosystem. We got to witness the vultures soar across the skies first hand and the are truly fascinating "Misinterpreted Scavengers of the Dead" #southafrica #wildlife #vultures #birding

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Liza Williams

Born in South Africa, fascinated with culture and loves wood fire pizza. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” Follow me on twitter: @soul_drifters

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