International Vulture Awareness Day 2012 / by Martin

On last year's International Vulture Awareness Day I showed examples of how vultures are presented in zoos around the world.

During this year's travels I saw three examples that are different from what I showed last year:
  1. Jungle Park in Tenerife which has a show arena like a soccer-field.
  2. Zoom Zoo in Germany where the vultures live in a very, very large savanna
  3. Prague zoo with a huge walk through aviary
Jungle Park is located on the Spanish island, Tenerife, which is part of the Canary archipelago off the coast of Morocco. Originally the Park was called Parque Las Águilas - (Park of the Eagles). The old name is fitting as it is famous for its raptor show.

Photo above: A king vulture Sarcorhamphus papa flying past visitors during the raptor show.

A vulture might appear stiff or gangly when it's sitting, walking, or standing, but in flight it looks amazingly acrobatic. Nothing is more captivating than an active animal.

Only a few visitors came on this is Friday afternoon, but we were in for a treat as we all got close to the birds.

A Griffon vulture sees eye to eye with me.

Vultures are large but when they spread their wings they become even more impressive - especially close to your head.
Below the vulture is flying inches over the spectators.
King vulture flying over spectators

Photo above: Visitors duck their heads when a king vulture flies just inches above them.

The show area looks similar to a soccer field except that it's round. The grassy field in the center is hemmed in by concrete steps where the spectator sits. Two round stone-clad towers stand about 30 feet tall at opposing ends and serve as take-off and landing points for the birds.

 Photo above: Two Marabu storks Leptoptilos crumeniferus fly from one of the towers and come my way (see the red arrows - you might need to click on the photo to enlarge it to see the birds).

 Photo above: A vulture ready for take off. Trainer and bird are on top of the tower.

The show ended with a finale of heroic music and  many other birds entering the arena.

I uploaded two video clips on YouTube (here and here) that give you a better overview of the show arena.

The next example is from Zoom, a Zoo in Germany.

Like Jungle Park, Zoom also changed its name in recent years. Formerly called Ruhr-Zoo, the zoo underwent a complete makeover in the last decade and is now called ZOOM Erlebniswelt (ZOOM World of Experience) .

The vulture exhibit at Zoom is an open-top exhibit and it is huge.
In the photo above I marked a griffon vulture with an arrow.  This is the first view towards the vulture area on top of the hill in this large, mixed species Africa exhibit.

When you walk up the visitor path you get a closer look towards the vulture hilltop, as shown below.

I was there at an unfortunate time because keepers were working where the vultures usually hang out.

Photo above:  The snag and rock pile in the middle is for vultures, but when I was visiting, keepers worked there and one of the vultures moved out to the right (red arrow). The visitor can come closer than I'm standing in this photo. There is a viewing area to the left just outside the photo frame.

Photo above:  Another view toward the vulture hill from along the visitor path. I marked the vulture area with a big arrow.

The zoo was founded in 1949 and was known for its large mixed species African savanna exhibit. The new zoo carries on the tradition of a large African Savanna exhibit.

Map of Savanna exhibit at ZOOM Erlebniswelt. A Zoo in Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Map above: In the center is the African savanna exhibit, that is divided by a rhino barrier wall.

The hoofstock and birds, including the vultures, are to the right (1.7 hectares or 4.2 acres) and the rhinos are on the left (an additional 0.5 hectare or 1.2 acre.) The barrier wall confines the rhino but is perforated to allow the more slender animals to pass back and forth.

The  satellite photo below shows the same area as the map above does. Because it is to scale and shows more detail it will give you a better idea of how big the space for the animals is.

The lower right portion of the photo depicts the rhino area  (yellow line = barrier wall)

Animals that share the exhibit with the vultures:
Greater kudu  Tragelaphus strepsiceros
Sable antelope  Hippotragus niger
Springbok  Antidorcas marsupialis
Common eland  Taurotragus oryx

Ostrich  Struthio camelus
Marabou Stork  Leptoptilos crumeniferus
and of course
Griffon Vulture  Gyps fulvus

In theory the vultures could also venture over to the white rhino  Ceratotherium simum area just as all of the hoofstock can. 

Foto: © ZOOM Erlebniswelt Gelsenkirchen
A boat ride allows the visitors to see the animals from the lake.

Photo above. A vulture near the water's edge.

I took these photos from the boat with the visitors' heads in the foreground.

Vulture bullied into shrubbery by sable antelopes - the rope in the photo belongs to the theming of the boat.
Photo above: Two Sable antelopes (A) bullied a vulture into the shrubbery near the lake shore.
The barrier however worked quite well and there was a point where the antelope couldn't push any further. The visitors in the background and we on the boat watched the spectacle with fascination.

At some point one of the birds (B) had had enough and chased the antelope (A). I can't remember and can't make out in the photo if it was the Marabou stork or one of the Griffon vultures that made the bold attack.
Here a close up:
Photo above: An UFA (unknown flying animal) chasing away a sable antelope.

The spokeswoman from the zoo told me that it is normal for the eland antelopes and zebras to give chase to the vultures when the vultures leave "their" area. However in the past they had an eland antelope that allowed A male vulture to ride it. That friendship ended when the antelope died and nothing like it has happened since.

The large space of the enclosure and the interaction of different species made this exhibit interesting to view.

The last example comes from the Prague Zoo.

The great thing about the raptor exhibit in Prague is that you can enter it and see the vultures (or other raptors) without distracting fencing or glass.

From above the exhibit looks like this:

From the ground:

And from atop the hill like this:

The raptor aviary is not pretty or light and the metallic green color does nothing to conceal this fact.
But what I love is that visitor can enter the exhibit .

You can only enter a small part of the aviary, technically its not even part of the same construction. It's a wooden building extension (shown above); a red arrow shows the visitor entry route.

Once you are inside it looks like this (photos above and below)

The visitor area looks like this:

Not much to it, but once you lean on the railing you have a spacious exhibit in front of you.

You can see the railing on the lower right side of the photo above; it doesn't look very kid-friendly but I remember that they had a large step for children. I'm not sure how good viewing is if you are wheelchair bound.

Red Kite Milvus milvus spreading its wing on a tree snag
I didn't understand why the snags, which are always popular hang-out places for the birds, were placed so far away from the wooden-viewing area. There were also not enough snags, and they where placed in a way that the girders were behind them, making it difficult to take good, nature-like photos (see photo above).

In addition to snags or other perching places, a patch of sand or running water near the visitor viewing would have also helped to get the birds closer to the visitors. In other aviaries at the Prague Zoo they have this (they have an impressive amount of  walk through aviaries - definitely worth seeing). Maybe there is a reason they didn't do it here or maybe this exhibit is old and nobody gave much thought to the visitor experience back when it was built.

Four bird species share the aviary:

1. Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus,  also known as the White Scavenger Vulture or Pharaoh's Chicken

2. Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus also known as the Black Vulture, Monk Vulture, or Eurasian Black Vulture

3. Black Stork Ciconia nigra

4. Red Kite Milvus milvus

The Egyptian Vulture sat on the ground at the far end of the exhibit away from the walk-in visitor observation hut where I took the photos above. But it wasn't for shyness that it was so far way, because it was standing close to a group of zoo visitors right across from it (see photo below).

Visitors looking at Egyptian Vulture.
This small wooden observation hut made a big difference in my viewing experience.

Of course the experience was  heightened for me because I'd just had lunch at the cafeteria where I discovered that I could draft my own beer right next to the self serve soda pop fountain - in the best of Bohemian tradition.


You can find last year's post to celebrate Vulture Awareness Day here.