Keep calm and carrion: Zoo marks Vulture Day

Keeper talks at zoo will highlight California condors and other 'master recyclers'

The Oregon Zoo will celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day on Saturday, Sept. 2, showcasing California condors, turkey vultures and other "master recyclers," and highlighting the critical role vultures play in ecosystems around the world.

At 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., visitors can stop by the zoo's Condors of the Columbia habitat for keeper talks and up-close views of these colorful, charismatic and critically endangered birds. Though native to the region, and commonly seen here during the time of Lewis and Clark, California condors haven't soared through Northwest skies for more than a century. Volunteers will be on hand throughout the day, providing information about these enormous birds and the actions we can take to protect them. 

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., guests can take part in vulture games and activities at the zoo's Family Farm. A representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be on hand discussing turkey vulture adaptations. And the Zoo Store will be selling "condor care packages" — boxes containing a condor plush-toy, magnet, postcard and certificate of appreciation — with proceeds supporting the zoo's efforts on behalf of the federal California condor recovery program.

Considered nature's clean-up crew, vultures play a critical role in the ecosystem, feeding on carrion — dead animals — that could otherwise spread disease. Unfortunately, vulture populations worldwide have been in sharp decline.

In Africa, poachers have been targeting vultures — poisoning the carcasses they feed on in an effort to remain undiscovered by park rangers, who can be alerted to illegal activity when the birds gather above poached animals. Conservationists say six of the continent's 11 vulture species are nearing extinction. In Asia, the drug diclofenac — used by veterinarians to treat livestock — has decimated vulture populations, with some species declining by around 99 percent.

In North America, accumulated lead poisoning — a problem that plagues many predators and scavengers — is the most severe obstacle to the California condor's recovery as a species. As the birds feed on carrion and other animal carcasses, they can unintentionally ingest lead, which causes paralysis of the digestive tract and results in a slow death by starvation. Lead also causes severe neurological problems, so the birds not only starve but suffer from impaired motor functions.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
 
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
 
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org