News release from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo:
Rare Vulture Chick Hatches at Zoo
(March 23, 2011) – Despite a rocky entrance into the world, a rare Ruppell’s griffon vulture chick is now thriving at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. This is the first vulture ever to hatch at the zoo.
“This chick is growing fast and eating well,” says Zoo Veterinarian Joe Smith. “We’re very pleased with its progress.”
The chick’s parents, Wednesday and Igor, live in the African Journey at the zoo and spent the entire winter carefully building a nest and incubating their single egg. But in their zeal to care for their egg, the pair often got into squabbles over whose turn it was to incubate. “A few times, the egg actually rolled out of the nest as the vultures were arguing,” says Amber Eagleson, manager of the African Journey. Keepers returned the egg to the nest each time, and they set up a remote camera system to keep an eye on the overeager pair from afar.
On February 28, just one day before the egg was set to hatch, Wednesday and Igor couldn’t seem to agree on who should be on the nest. During their quarrel, one of the vultures stepped on the egg, cracking it open.
“We watched the vultures closely for about an hour,” Eagleson says. “Just as with their egg, they were both so eager to help the chick that they stepped on it. We decided that to protect the chick from further injury, we needed to pull the chick from the nest and hand rear it.”
After moving the chick to an incubator, the zoo staff fed the tiny chick five times a day, tucking raw meat into the chick’s mouth with forceps. Once the chick’s eyes opened on the third day, the staff began covering their head and body with a sheet to prevent the chick from associating its food with humans. “We want the chick to know that it is a vulture, not a human,” says Dr. Smith. “By covering up and not talking to the chick, we can avoid having the chick imprint on humans.”
At just three weeks old, the chick is growing stronger and larger every day. “The chick now eats about one-quarter of its body weight in food a day,” says Dr. Smith. “Its weight has increased six-fold in just three weeks.”
Keepers named the chick “Tuck,” although the chick’s sex is not yet known.
Ruppell’s griffon vultures are native to eastern Africa, where they nest on rocky cliffs. They usually lay just one egg each year. Though often depicted as sinister and opportunistic in the media, vultures play an important role as scavengers in the ecosystem.
Vulture chicks remain in the nest for several months, meaning zoo keepers will be hand-feeding the chick well into the summer. Zoo guests can see a group of Ruppell’s griffon vultures on the African Journey savannah this summer.
The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is one of the area’s major attractions and is consistently named one of the country’s “Ten Best Zoos for Kids” by national media outlets.
The zoo opens for the season on Saturday, April 23, 2011.