Zoo Atlanta Uses Vulture Puppet to Care for Bird Chick: 'Such an Exciting and Happy Milestone'
This is the first time a critically endangered hooded vulture has successfully hatched at the Atlanta zoo
These zookeepers are getting creative to provide motherly love to a baby vulture.
Zoo Atlanta welcomed a hooded vulture chick on April 9, the first of the critically endangered species to be successfully reproduced at the zoo. The animal experts at the facility noticed an egg in the nest of first-time parents Acacia and Tai back in February, and swapped a "dummy" egg in with the mom and dad, taking the real one to be artificially incubated for safekeeping.
"This hatching is such an exciting and happy milestone for Zoo Atlanta, especially during times that are so challenging for everyone," said Jennifer Mickelberg, vice president of collections and conservation, in a statement. "... Vultures are vital contributors to their ecosystems, and not everyone may realize just how much we need them."
Added Mickelberg: "We hope that in continuing to share more about this chick’s growth and milestones, we can draw more attention to these issues."
Since vultures are known to imprint at an early age, the team at Zoo Atlanta decided to use an adult vulture stand-in to be with the hatchling, so it wouldn't acclimate to human handling.
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Through "puppet rearing," the zookeepers feed the baby bird mice and interact with the chick while wearing the lookalike vulture creations. The human caregivers are careful not to speak either, trying to stay as invisible to the chick as possible.
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In addition to hooded vultures, Zoo Atlanta also looks after another African vulture species, the endangered lappet-faced vulture, and a New World species, the king vulture.
According to the zoo, hooded vulture populations have declined by over 95 percent, due primarily to poisonings — poachers sometimes poison animal carcasses to kill the birds and prevent them from circling dead animals in the sky.
The illegal hunters don't like their flying formation since it is a giveaway sign to anti-trafficking authorities that an animal was downed in a protected area.