For the first time ever, five vultures from the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Mich., have moved to Africa as part of an important conservation program to restore South Africa’s vulture populations. The five captive-born vultures, one lappet-faced vulture named Kassie and four hooded vultures named Mrs. Nasty, Nelly, Fiona, and Zeke, will live at VulPro, a nonprofit conservation organization based in South Africa. There they will live with other vultures and breed, and their offspring will be released into the wild.
VulPro is a leader in vulture rehabilitation and conservation, and has more than a decade of experience working with injured, non-releasable vultures to help bolster wild populations. To date, more than 40 vultures born in managed care have been released into the wild.
“Nestling vultures stay with their parents at VulPro until they have successfully fledged and are able to feed on a carcass on their own. Then, they move to a large enclosure with other juveniles and wild-born rehabilitated vultures for a month,” said Kerri Wolter, founder of VulPro. “When they’re strong enough to forage and move widely, they’re released to the wild.”
“This is monumental as it will be the first time that African vultures are returning to their native continent from North America,” said Chief Life Sciences Officer, Scott Carter. “We are excited to work with VulPro on this groundbreaking initiative and help to restore these endangered species. We will be sharing updates from VulPro on Kassie, Mrs. Nasty, Nelly, Fiona, and Zeke, and look forward to someday showing the release of their offspring in the wild in South Africa.”
The process to get the vultures to South Africa was extensive. Obtaining the necessary permits from both the United States and South Africa took nearly two years due to pandemic-related delays.
Vultures are some of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated birds in the world, and are also some of the most at risk of extinction. Living almost entirely on diets of carrion, these scavengers play a crucial role in the world’s ecosystems.
In recent years, vulture populations in many places around the globe have declined drastically as a result of human activities including changes to wild areas and direct persecution. Lappet-faced vultures are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Hooded vultures are listed as critically endangered.