Back To Latest News

An Unusual Connection Between Elephants and Vultures

Posted on 12/01/2017

ASHEBORO, NC ­­— What to do when one threatened species is affecting another? Dr. Corinne Kendall, the North Carolina Zoo’s Associate Curator of Conservation and Research, narrowed that broad-based question into a detailed study as part of her Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton University.

High densities of elephants can lead to a decrease in woodlands and tree availability. As a result, elephants can potentially have a negative impact on tree-nesting birds of prey such as vultures. Dr. Kendall assessed the severity of this problem in an ecosystem critical to vultures, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, and the findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Avian Biology.

“We wanted to determine if tree availability was likely to have an effect on the nesting potential of African vultures,” says Dr. Kendall. “To answer this question, you first need to understand what types of trees vultures prefer, and then we used satellite imagery and random sampling of trees in the Mara to estimate how many trees might be available for nesting vultures.”

By gathering data on more than 100 nests for three species of vulture, it was possible to understand what vultures need to nest successfully. Then by calculating both how many trees would meet these criteria and how many birds might be wanting to nest in a given year, it was possible to assess if tree availability could be a limiting factor for nesting vultures.

“The results were striking,” says Dr. Ara Monadjem, a professor at the University of Swaziland and co-author of the study. “There are thousands of more trees available than there are potential breeding vultures in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. So declines in tree availability are unlikely to be affecting these endangered birds.”

So at least in this area, elephant populations are unlikely to be affecting vultures, notes Dr. Kendall. “Sadly, despite the plethora of potential nesting trees, African vultures are still in trouble,” she says. “People continue to use poisons to kill predators like lions and hyenas and often end up killing vultures as well. Vultures and elephants also have common enemies, as elephant poachers use poisons to reduce vulture populations as these scavenging birds can help rangers find large carcasses, like those of dead elephants. So there may be more than one angle to the unusual connections between elephants and vultures.”

For further information, contact Dr. Kendall at corinne.kendall@nczoo.org.   

 

About the North Carolina Zoo

At the North Carolina Zoo, we celebrate nature. As the world’s largest natural habitat Zoo, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about animals for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit our Zoo each year. Our dedicated team of experts provides exceptional, compassionate care for the more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants that call our Park home. We also lead efforts locally and globally to protect wildlife and wild places because we believe nature’s diversity is critical for our collective future. The North Carolina Zoo invites all of our guests to witness the majesty of the wild in the heart of North Carolina and welcomes everyone to join in our mission to protect nature’s diversity. Visit NCZoo.org to begin your life-changing journey.

About the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR’s mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development.

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call 919- 807-7300 or visit www.ncdcr.gov.

Back To Lastest News