Raising Nature's Clean-Up Crew

Vultures have one of the worst reputations in the Animal Kingdom just by doing what comes naturally—eating carrion. These unique birds serve as the custodians of the wild, and are critical to ecosystems around the world.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has a long history of success in breeding endangered vultures, including Ruppell's vultures like this one, Egyptian vultures, and most famously, the California condor.


Click the link below to learn more about San Diego Zoo’s vulture conservation efforts:

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Conservationists Raise Rare Egyptian Vulture

SAN DIEGO (Sept. 23, 2021) – After more than four decades of successfully breeding, rearing and introducing California condors and other vultures back into their native habitats, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is ushering in a new era of vulture conservation. Wildlife care specialists at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have begun hatching and raising the Western Egyptian vulture, a species native to southern Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, very few of these rare birds live in the United States—and this novel breeding program represents new hope for increasing the conservation population of the species in North America.

                  “This is an endangered species with a rapidly declining population trend, as is the plight of many vulture species,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Increasing the number of individual birds and maintaining genetic diversity in North America is an extremely important part of our work. As Egyptian vulture numbers continue to decline in their native habitat, the genetic line of every individual becomes increasingly more important to the continuation of this species.”

                  A chick named Jamila was successfully hatched earlier this year, and she is the offspring of the only Western Egyptian vulture breeding pair in North America. She is also the first hatchling of the species in San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s 105-year-history. To ensure Jamila’s survival after hatching, wildlife care specialists used 40 years of experience conserving threatened vultures by puppet rearing her—a practice where they passed food to Jamila from the beak of a lifelike hand puppet resembling an adult vulture. This care process is particularly valuable to the successful rearing of a chick from a species with such low population numbers, and with inexperienced parents. It also ensures that the chick not only receives proper care, but also does not form a bond with humans.

                  “Puppet versus hand rearing is an important distinction to make, as these are very intelligent animals that can easily imprint on humans, if we are not careful,” said Peterson. “Due to the low numbers of Egyptian vultures, each one is very special. The likelihood of survival for each offspring is greatly increased by assisting with rearing in the early years of a program. The California condor program is a great example of how this method is used.”

                  Worldwide, vultures are considered one of the most threatened groups of birds, yet they are essential to a healthy ecosystem—preventing the spread of disease to other wildlife and to humans. The well-known California condor program is a noteworthy conservation success story as it not only allowed scientists to study the species, but also helped them develop and enhance the systems necessary to preserve a vital vulture species that was near extinction. California condors are just one of 19 of the world’s 23 vulture species that San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has cared for, and the Egyptian vulture is the 11th species that has successfully bred at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Moving forward, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance plans to use its vulture expertise to continue increasing this species populations, and work with additional partners—including zoos and other conservation institutions—to help supplement the program when needed.

Zoo Atlanta Announces Its First-Ever Hatching Of A Lappet-Faced Vulture Chick

Success is more than 10 years in the making for first-time parents Amana and Anubis

Zoo Atlanta is celebrating an exciting first in its history: the hatching of an endangered lappet-faced vulture chick. The chick is the first offspring of parents Amana and Anubis and represents a success more than 10 years in the making for this pair.


Male Anubis, 16, has lived at Zoo Atlanta since 2008. In 2010, Anubis was joined by female Amana, now 18 years old, on a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Lappet-faced Vulture Species Survival Plan® (SSP). Prior to this hatching, the pair has had many unsuccessful breeding attempts and over a period of eight years, has produced 12 infertile eggs, making the chick’s arrival an achievement for both its parents and for the team responsible for their care.

“The birth of an endangered species is always an occasion for celebration, but this hatching represents a particular success for Zoo Atlanta,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “We are always thrilled to see first-time animal parents succeed. This is also a testament to the enormous commitment of our Bird Team, who have worked over a period of many years to provide opportunities and innovations to help this pair flourish.”

Nest-building is vital to maintaining pair bonds between lappet-faced vultures, so it was essential that Amana and Anubis had every opportunity to engage in this activity. The Bird Team constructed a nesting platform within the vultures’ indoor area, where it would be protected from the elements, and provided twigs and sticks on a daily basis for selection by the birds. The vultures added to and completed the nest over a period of around five months, and shortly thereafter, produced two eggs, both of which were infertile; the third and last egg of the season proved fertile. 

Because Amana and Anubis were inexperienced parents, the Bird Team removed the egg to an artificial incubator and replaced it on the nest with a “dummy” egg that would allow the vultures to continue to engage in the important behavior of incubation. The chick hatched 54 days later on April 24, and following 10 days of hand-rearing by the team as a precaution, was reintroduced to its parents. Amana and Anubis continue to provide appropriate care, and the chick is healthy and is gaining weight as expected.

The hatching represents a crucial success for a species in need of conservation action. Currently classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), lappet-faced vultures are primarily threatened by poisoning, both intentional and accidental, and by collisions with human-made structures – challenges shared by many of their fellow African vulture species. Despite the critical roles they play in their ecosystems, African vulture species have declined by more than 80% in just the past three decades. Zoo Atlanta is a member of the AZA African Vulture SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) Program, which works to save species by focusing the collective expertise of accredited zoos and aquariums.

Although the chick is not yet visible at the Zoo, guests can go behind the scenes for highlights of the efforts leading up to its hatching and insights into its care with a special social media takeover by the Bird Team, happening throughout the day on Thursday, June 3, on Zoo Atlanta Facebook and Instagram.

Israeli Zoos Cooperate to Foster Rare Vulture Chick

Sagit Horowitz (2)

A tiny chick hatched at Israel’s Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and raised at the Ramat Gan Safari Park is part of an effort to restore native Griffon Vultures to Israel.

With only 100 Vultures remaining in the wild in Israel, scientists don’t want to take any chances with the precious eggs breaking or being preyed upon.  So when a pair of wild Vultures in an Israeli nature reserve laid an egg, scientists collected the egg and brought it to the Jerusalem Zoo, where it was placed in the safety of an incubator. 

DSC_2930 Michal Erez (1)

DSC_2930 Michal Erez (2)

DSC_2930 Michal Erez (3)
Photo Credits: Sagit Horowitz (1), Michal Erez (2, 3, 4)

Meanwhile, at the Ramat Gan Safari Park, Vultures Donky and Kosta were sitting on a dummy egg, because the two eggs that they had laid earlier were removed from the nest.  Once the wild-collected egg began to hatch in the incubator at the Jerusalem Zoo, it was rushed to Ramat Gan Safari Park.

Vultures are unable to tell if a chick is theirs or not, so a brave zoo keeper entered Donky and Kosta’s enclosure, climbed up to the nesting shelf, removed the dummy egg, and replaced it with a newly hatched chick, which was still in its shell. Not an easy task when you have two protective Vultures nearby!

Father Kosta immediately returned to the nest to make sure the egg was still there after the "intruder's" visit. To his surprise, he found that a tiny chick waiting for him in the nest, begging for food. Kosta did not think twice and rushed to feed the chick

Kosta and Donkey have successfully fostered several chicks over the years.

By the age of 6 months, the chick will be taken to a nature reserve, where it will spend three years with other young Vultures until it is old enough to be released to the wild and join the wild population.  

King Vulture Chick - Just 70 Hours Old!


France's Mulhouse Zoo has welcomed a male King Vulture chick.  The hatchling posed two days ago for these glamour shots by Life On White only 70 hours after its birth. Keepers must feed the chick with a lifelike puppet, or surrogate, so that the young bird does not associate human hands with food. Eventually, he will move to another zoo to live with a female King Vulture. King Vultures live predominently in the lowland tropical forests of Central and South America. New evidence that wild populations of King Vultures are in decline points to habitat destruction and poaching as the primary threats to this unique bird species.



Photo credits: Life on White

Baby Einstein the Vulture

Germany's Hannover Zoo has an extraordinary hatchling on its hands - a muppet-like one-month-old baby Griffon Vulture. In past breeding attempts, sibling rivalry between hatchlings resulted in dangerous squabbles so Einstein is being raised by hand while his sibling stays in the nest. Keepers will return Einstein to the nest when he is strong enough to endure the occasional vulture throw-down. 



Baby vulture chick hannover zoo 1

Photo Credits: Zoo Hannover