The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is home to 4 Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures: Morticia, Wednesday, and Gomez (all named after the Addams Family), and Igor.
These vultures are native to central Africa and act as a clean-up crew: preventing things like diseases and bacteria from spreading to people by cleaning up carcasses.They have scissor-like sharp beaks and are very hearty birds. They only eat dead animals and are on standby for feasting after another predator, like a lion, is done with its kill.
At the zoo, the vultures are each given one large rat a day, along with treats of beef shanks a few times a week. Their sharp beaks come in handy for picking out the marrow in the bones.
One of the most common questions that zookeepers receive about the vultures is “why can’t they fly away?” According to zoo staff, the Wednesday had a tumor in her wing and she had to have the wing amputated to save her life. That, in turn, keeps her grounded. Gomez and Morticia are pinioned, meaning that a bone was surgically removed from their wing just a few days after they were hatched (that was done prior to them coming to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo). Igor – who is a wild caught vulture – is wing-trimmed once a month. That’s when the Zookeepers clip a few feathers off the end of his wings. The staff compare this to getting your fingernails trimmed – it does not hurt him.
The zoo now offers a new VIP experience with the vultures for ages 5 and up. For $29 per person, the zookeepers will take you along the fence line of the exhibit and tell you all about the vultures while you toss out some large rats to them. It’s an opportunity to learn more about vultures, especially how they can consume their diets. This is a more graphic experience as the vultures tear apart the rats.
According to Zookeeper Ty Laemmle, this it’s important for visitors to learn about these birds:
One big issue these guys are facing right now is poisoning from poachers. They’re actually starting to poison large animals like elephants and rhinos. And when one elephant dies, 200 vultures can die. And these guys actually last year were put on the critically endangered list.
You can venture over to see the vultures in the African Journey all summer long!