Zoos, bird parks, rehabilitation centers, rescue stations and vulture lovers around the world are doing their part to raise awareness.
What can I do to mark this day?
I've never designed a vulture exhibit, so I decided to search my photo archives for examples of exhibits and I compiled my findings in this blog entry. The example exhibits shown below are from around the world emphasizing the "International" aspect of the International Vulture Awareness Day.
Large aviaries are the most prevalent, sometimes with a walk-through path for the visitor. I also found an open top exhibit with barrier moats.
The first example is from a zoo in Southern Germany presenting a commission of Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus).
|Visitor view from close up.|
In this photo I found the birds hard to see and I therefore marked them with arrows below.
|There are five birds in the photo. Clicking the photo will enlarge it.|
|The Griffon vulture aviary as seen from a distance.|
|click on sign to enlarge|
European zoos have played and are playing a vital role in reintroducing several vulture species into southern Europe. But, I can't remember any zoo that I visited in Europe bragging with large signage about it, in fact, I feel they are a bit too shy about their good work.
The next photos are from one of the vulture exhibits at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park near Escondido in California. Fittingly, the park exhibits the California Condor (gymnogyps californianus).
|A detail of the California Condor exhibit at San Diego Zoo Safari Park|
|Sign at the visitor deck|
The San Diego Zoo Global is a leading partner in the efforts to save the California condor. In 1982, 22 birds remained in the wild. At that time, the San Diego Zoo was given permission to begin the first zoological propagation program for California condors. The program also involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, the National Audubon Society, and the Los Angeles Zoo. Thanks to the conservation breeding program, within 25 years the population of California condors grew to more than 300 birds.
You can read the full article here: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/conservation/animals/birds/three_decades_of_the_condor/
And another interesting article from their web site:
Crossing the Pacific to Japan, I found photos I took of a vulture exhibit at the Tama Zoo near Tokyo. The exhibit is quite large and round in shape allowing for the birds to fly in a circular pattern.
|A turkey vulture circling around the tree at the center of the exhibit at the Tama Zoo.|
|Mixed birds of prey exhibit at the Tama Zoo, Japan.|
Below is a photo of the most colorful vulture, a king vulture (Sarcorhamphus papa) on display at the National Aviary . The National Aviary, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, isn't funded or run by the U.S. government, like the National Zoo in Washington D.C.is. Given that they have quite an exotic bird collection the epithet "National" is something of a misnomer on that end too. The king vulture's name, however, is dead on:
barrier of choice between visitor and vultures is glass, allowing for net-free photos.
Besides taking net-free photos, glass allows you to get very close to the animal. The photo below is from a vulture exhibit at the Amersfoort Zoo in Holland.
Here the same photo un-cropped:
transparency of this glass barrier works particularly well here because the visitor is in a dark, shaded place that doesn't create reflection onto the glass pane. In fact it worked so perfectly in places that I can imagine visitors occasionally running into the glass (and birds might too).
The theming and the placement of the glass further helped to disguise and conceal the barrier, as you can see in this photo:
A glass barrier needs to be clean and free of reflection for it to serve its purpose. Fortunately, both can be controlled. A designer will go to great lengths to prevent reflection in most circumstances. Clean glass might be largely a management issue, but the designer can help by making cleaning the glass easier and thereby likelier through easy accessibility. Despite the fact that there was quite a lot of glass in this exhibit, it was spanking clean the day I was there. The photo below shows how reflection creates distraction along the visitor sight-line.
|Reflection on glass barrier|
The other disadvantage of glass is a psychological aspect: although visually pleasing, glass creates quite a disconnect from the animal even if one stands nose to nose with the animal. I experienced this once with a tiger and once with a gorilla. In both cases I saw the animals through the glass as a visitor ;there were just inches between me and the animals, and then I stepped behind the scene with a keeper to see the back holding area where cages and chutes consisted of metal bars. When the animals came up, I took notice and stepped back.
It was scary and impressive; the animals appeared stronger, bigger, and wilder - gone was the cuddly kitty, instead I was faced with a wild tiger. This transformation happened in my head, the animals were the same, whether behind glass or behind bars, and quite uninterested in me. Anybody that has gone to a zoo with a public training wall at a tiger exhibit where you can come close to the animal knows what I am talking about.
The bottom line of this digression, as the photos from Amersfoort Zoo show, glass is a great barrier but it has its shortcomings.
Back to International Vulture Awareness Day and how these birds are displayed in zoos:
The Living Desert Museum in Southern California has a walk through aviary which allows you to see the birds with no barrier between you and them.
|The sign reads "PLEASE STAY ON PATH"|
black turkey vulture (Coragyps atratus) looking down at me where I'm standing on the visitor path.
A completely different concept in displaying vultures is the open top exhibit in the next example. This exhibit is situated in the African Woods section of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The birds are confined by a ha-ha and some wire fencing, both mostly hidden from public view. The photos here are about ten years old; by now the exhibited species might have changed - if not the exhibit itself.
(Gyps fulvus) on display. The downside of this type of exhibit is that you need to clip the birds' feathers to keep them from taking off; and another potential disadvantage is that other birds can enter the enclosure, which might lead to fighting or to high blood pressure in the vet department.
Since it is quite common to see several vulture species around one carcass I guess it just got more educational - but how to do you explain Old World and New World vultures in one exhibit? Does the visitor even care? For the visitor the enclosure becomes more colorful and more active...
beautiful and effective from my visitor vantage point. What made it even more interesting was that I could see antelopes behind the exhibit; it was one spectacular habitat display. I wish I had a photo of the vultures with the antelopes in the background; instead I found a photo I took in Kenya that reminded me of this exhibit:
|A venue of vultures in front of a herd of wildebeests.|
Summing up: I was impressed by the diversity of displays with which zoos raise appreciation for vultures. Creating aviaries large enough for these birds to fly takes up a lot of land and I was wondering, couldn't you make the most of the real estate by adding ground dwelling animals to the display?
I did a search for mixed vulture exhibits and found two amazing exhibits at ZooLex.org.
The first one is located at Nordhorn Zoo in northern Germany where they mix Griffon vultures with an Ibex herd (Capra ibex).
|Mixed species exhibit at Nordhorn Zoo. ©Wolfgang Salzert, 2005|
The Nature and Animal Park Goldau, in Switzerland, mixes bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus) with snow hares (Lepus timidus). How cool can you get?
|Snow hare ©Tierpark Goldau, 2005. Photo from ZooLex.org|
|Bearded vulture exhibit at Goldau ©Monika Fiby, 2005. Photo from ZooLex.org|
Finally, two links I highly recommended for further reading.
Peter Dickenson writes about the dangers vultures are facing in the wild:
The founders of the International Vulture Awareness Day put a site up where you can find out what zoos and other organizations are doing to celebrate this day. Sign up and participate at:
For this blog entry I wanted to know what a group of vultures is called. Here is what I found:
"Wake, committee, or venue" from wikipedia.org
"Wast, committee, meal, vortex, venue and even wake" from wiki.answers.com
"Vultures circling in the air are a Kettle" from vulturesociety.homestead.com
|Vulture illustration by Laura Hamilton|