It’s safe to say that vultures in general and turkey vultures in particular have a pretty bad reputation. These scavengers are usually depicted hovering over some helpless cowboy lost in an arid desert, licking their beaks in cruel anticipation. Sadly, this stereotype has some negative consequences in the real world. In order to correct it, conservation groups have made the first Saturday in September International Vulture Awareness Day, also called International Turkey Vulture Day.
The holiday, which aims to raise awareness of all species of vultures, began in South Africa and the United Kingdom but quickly spread around the world. Zoos and wildlife organisations from the United States and Canada to India, Uganda, Serbia, Australia, Tunisia and elsewhere host events where members of the public can learn more about vultures. Anyone wanting to share in the celebrations should look for a vulture event at a local zoo or wildlife park.
Those vulture fans not lucky enough to have a local event can still celebrate. Gathering a group of friends to watch a vulture-centric nature documentary can help share the love of these noble but misunderstood animals. For the ambitious, a vulture-shaped cake makes the perfect accompaniment.
The first Saturday in September has been set aside as a day to consider the ecological importance of a bird of prey that is otherwise mostly dismissed with a shudder. With some species under severe threat of extinction, today aims to educate a reluctant public in the critical role of this creature to the well-being of the environment. With vultures traditionally being perceived as representing death and decay, conservationists involved in preserving their numbers have faced an uphill battle in fund-raising efforts and in making theirs a more sympathetic cause. Hopefully, the joint effort of South Africa’s Birds of Prey Programme and England’s Hawk Conservancy Trust in establishing an international day of vulture awareness will change public attitudes. The key role of the vulture in signalling the presence of a carcass to other scavengers prevents contamination by pathogens and helps keep nature free of disease.