Vultures are not typically the most attractive creatures, but we dedicated the first Saturday of September, the International Vulture Awareness Day, to them. It showcases the importance of these scavengers, an often overlooked hero of the natural world.
They do not appear often in our social media feeds, but their work is vital to our ecosystem. International Vulture Awareness Day raises public knowledge about their role in maintaining the balance of our environment.
From being nature’s garbage disposal to preventing the spreading of harmful diseases, this event will remind us annually how vultures need immediate support and attention from everyone.
Featured in: September - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.
In 2009, the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England and the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa collaborated to address the declining vulture populations in Africa and Asia, leading to International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD).
Their efforts began from vulture awareness days under the Birds of Prey Programme to a globally celebrated event.
The primary goal of IVAD was to highlight vulture conservation and raise awareness about vultures, whose diminishing numbers threaten biodiversity.
Since its introduction, IVAD is now active in more than 50 countries. The dedication of the supporters led to IVAD gaining recognition on the international conservation stage.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 16 out of the 23 species of vultures as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered, creating ongoing vulture crises worldwide.
We must pay attention because these avian scavengers control disease spread and help preserve human and environmental health.
The vulture population faces complex threats such as poisoning. Vultures often consume toxic substances when eating carcasses of animals targeted for predator control. Sometimes, vultures consume lead ammunition residue left in carcasses by hunters.
Poachers also poison vultures to prevent them from alerting authorities to illegally killed games1.
In other regions like Africa and Asia, people hunt Old World Vultures like the Egyptian vulture for traditional medicine purposes.
Additionally, modern innovations like power lines and wind energy hubs electrocute species like the griffon vulture.
Human activities like urbanization and livestock farming have changed the landscape and caused habitat loss.
According to recent research, feral dog populations are rising as vulture numbers plummet, leading to fears of potential rabies outbreaks in human populations, a scenario previously observed in India and Pakistan during the late 1990s.
With Ethiopia already grappling with an estimated 3,000 rabies-related deaths each year, the warning signs are ominous and underline the vital importance of vulture conservation2.
These are clear examples of how the absence of vultures can cause significant adverse effects.
1. Vultures are not dirty. These birds can remove contagious diseases such as botulism, cholera, and anthrax from their food before consuming it.
2. Unlike many other bird species, These scavengers don't generally possess an advanced sense of smell. However, turkey vultures stand out with a keen sense of smell, enabling them to detect food from a considerable distance.
3. Vultures act monogamously, sticking with one partner for life. Both parents share the responsibility of rearing their chicks.
4. Going long periods without food? No problem for vultures. They can survive up to two weeks without a meal if eaten sufficiently beforehand.
5. Bare, featherless heads keep vultures hygienic. This adaptation prevents any pieces of their meals from sticking, thereby avoiding potential bacterial issues.
Read more: Vulture Facts.
The IUCN Vulture Specialist Group released the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (Vulture MsAP) to conserve the 15 Old Vulture species. They tackle issues like poisoning, illegal trading, electrocutions, etc.
The Peregrine Fund's Pan-Africa Vulture Conservation initiative strives to ensure the survival of nature’s clean-up crew throughout Africa through research and advocacy efforts.
In Asia, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Bombay Natural History Society collaborate to prevent the extinction of native vulture species.
Their SAVE project uses research, advocacy, and in-situ conservation methods to protect endangered vultures.
Meanwhile, the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) holds captive breeding programs, reintroductions, and population reinforcement campaigns in Europe.
Vulture Awareness Day highlights the vital role that vultures play in ecosystems across the globe. Thus, we must recognize the need for a global commitment to and take action for vulture conservation.
Spark discussions, amplify the cause on social media, and contribute to conservation initiatives to ensure the survival of these incredible birds. From the least concerned Turkey Vulture to the critically endangered White-Rumped Vulture, let’s all be part of the solution for them.
It is a global campaign on the first Saturday of September to raise awareness about the importance of vultures and their conservation.
They scavenge carcasses, which helps prevent the spread of diseases and reduces pollution.
Their primary threats are habitat loss, poisoning from consuming poisoned carcasses, collisions with power lines, and the illegal wildlife trade.
More than half of the vulture species worldwide are endangered or critically endangered. They are among the most threatened birds on the planet.
Spread awareness, support vulture rescue and rehabilitation centers, avoid using poison baits, and participate in citizen science programs that monitor vulture populations.
Ogada, D., Botha, A., & Shaw, P. (2016). Ivory poachers and poison: drivers of Africa's declining vulture populations. Oryx, 50(4), 593-596.
Buechley, E. R., Murgatroyd, M., Ruffo, A., Bishop, R. C., Christensen, T., Marra, P. P., Sillett, T. S., & Şekercioğlu, Ç. H. (2022). Declines in scavenging by endangered vultures in the Horn of Africa. Journal of Wildlife Management, 86(3).