The Lappet-faced Vulture, also referred to as the Nubian Vulture and Torgos tracheliotos, is an Old World culture that belongs to the Accipitriformes order, along with kites, eagles, buzzards, and hawks. This bird species was formerly considered monotypical, but now is divided into two subspecies.
The Lappet-faced Vulture was first described by Reformed (Calvinist) pastor and naturalist Johan Reinhold Forster in 1791. Presently, there is a decreasing population of Lappet-faced Vulture across the African continent. The largest threat to their declining population is humans. Many Lappet-faced Vultures die due to poisoning, either intentional or accidental. Another major threat is the rapid decline in the available carcasses due to pollution, hunting, agriculture, and urbanization.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red posited that the total population size of Lappet-faced Vultures is about 8,500 individuals, 5,700 of which are mature birds. Eight thousand individuals were estimated in Africa, while 500 individuals are in the Middle East. Because of the rapid decline in their population, IUCN Red List categorized the Lapped-faced Vulture’s population as Endangered.
Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:
Species: T. tracheliotos
The physical characteristics of a Lappet-faced Vulture
The Lappet-faced Vulture is known to be the largest vulture in Africa and has the strongest beak out of all the vultures. An adult Lappet-faced Vulture measures between 37-45 inches in body length, with a wingspan of 8.2-9.5 ft. It has black back feathers with strongly contrasting white tight feathers. The backs of African vultures are lined with brown, whereas Arabian inhabitants have dark brown instead. Like other vultures, it has a bald head, with varying colors depending on range. Southern African vultures have reddish heads, northern African vultures have dull pink, while Arabian vultures have pink on the back of the head and gray on the front. The mix of colors in the head and its fleshy folds makes the Lappet-faced Vulture distinct from other vulture species.
The bald head is very advantageous—a Lappet-faced Vulture’s face is not difficult to clean after eating carcasses than birds with feathered heads.
The distribution and habitat of Lappet-faced Vultures
As what was stated above, Lappet-faced vultures thrive in Africa and the Middle East, from the southern part of Sahara down to the Sahel, to eastern Africa, and down to the southern part of the continent, particularly in African countries such as Angola, Central African Republic, Gambia, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Swaziland, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, and many more. The Lappet-faced Vultures inhabit a variety of habitats, particularly dry savannahs, deserts, and semi-arid regions that have short grass, thorn bushes, and scattered trees. Likewise, they also wander around open mountain slopes that are as high as 4,500 m above sea level.
The behavior of a Lappet-faced Vulture
This bird of prey is considered one of the most aggressive African birds. Since it has the strongest beak, it usually arrives last at the carcass because of its sheer ability to tear off skin, ligaments, and tendons that are too tough to remove for smaller scavengers. Because of its massive size, it will often scare off smaller vultures.
The Lappet-faced Vulture lives and hunts in solitary or in pairs. It does not detect a carcass by smell. Instead, it observes the behavior of other birds and then follows them.
When it comes to their mating habits, Lappet-faced Vultures form monogamous bonds that last for life. They are solitary nesters that prefer to be distant from other breeding pairs. In East Africa, Lappet-faced Vultures breed all-year-round. However, in southern Africa, breeding takes place from may until mid-summer. A pair of Lappet-faced Vultures builds a huge, bulky, flat nest using small sticks, dry grasses, and other plant materials atop a thorny tree. A female vulture will lay a single egg, which will be incubated by the pair for 7 to 8 weeks.
The diet of a Lappet-faced Vulture
As carnivores and scavengers, they feed on the carrion and the skin and bones of dead animals. They also eat garbage and may prey on small mammals and birds. These vultures know how to steal food from other raptors by intimidating them. They have been also known to feed termites and locusts.
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