Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ first lappet-faced vulture chick is all grown up! As of Oct. 12, she will be 8 months old and independent from her parents—although, you may still see her stealing food from them on occasion.
Our lovely lady is no longer the little bundle we hand-fed a few months ago. As of early May, she weighed in at 13 pounds, only 2 pounds less than her mother. Lappets can weigh up to 30 pounds!
Despite her size, you can still tell her apart from her parents by her gray head and brown legs. Adult lappets have pink and purple heads and white pantaloon-like legs.
The lappets are the Zoo’s only captive vulture and one of the shiest of the Old World vultures, making the rearing of a lappet chick truly a sight to see. Located in the Elephant Plaza loop, you can frequently spot them sunning or tearing up their meals for the day. Also, keep an eye out for them this October. Mid-autumn is when our lappets begin nest building and you might catch one of them picking out and carrying sticks to their 5-foot wide nest located in the back of their exhibit.
Our growing female is incredibly important to the captive lappet-faced vulture gene pool because her genetics are unrepresented in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) lappet population. Based off this, the Species Survival Plan recommends her to breed once she reaches sexual maturity around 6 years of age. At this time, she will be paired with a male from another AZA facility where she can continue her genetic lineage, and in turn, help preserve wild populations.
Lappets and other African vultures have suffered greatly in the last 30 years, having lost over 90 percent of some species. Mass poisonings have occurred in great numbers throughout the last couple of years. The most recent death count was about 2,000 birds as of April 2020. Although lappets make up a small portion of these deaths, any sort of impact to the population can be detrimental. Recently, these vultures have been recategorized to “endangered” in the IUCN list, making her birth even more significant.
The Zoo has partnered with vulture conservation groups such as VulPro to help lappets and other African vultures in dire need. VulPro covers rehabilitation, breeding efforts, and conservation-based research. We hope to continue helping African vultures through our various conservation efforts.
Written by Isabella Carbonell, Bird Keeper