The Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos)
Also known as the Nubian Vulture, this is the largest vulture on the African continent.
The Lappet-faced Vulture is strong and powerful, dominating other birds of prey and even predators like jackals.
The Lappet-faced Vulture also has a powerful beak, able to tear through tough carcasses and break bones. This makes it easier for the smaller scavengers to feed off the carcass once the Lappet-faced Vulture has finished breaking it up into more manageable pieces.
Unlike most scavengers, Lappet-faced Vultures do not have a good sense of smell.
The Lappet-faced Vulture has a bald pink-skinned head and lappets, which are the folds of skin on the sides of its head. Most of its body is covered by dark brown or black feathers, while its thighs are white. There is also a white bar on the underside of the wing, which is best displayed in flight, when the wings are outstretched.
The Lappet-faced Vulture lives naturally in desert and semi-arid areas as well as in dry savannahs. The vegetation in these regions usually extends as far as thorn bushes, short grasses and the odd tree scattered across the landscape. These trees are very important to the vultures, as they require a place to roost and nest.Lappet-faced Vultures can also be found on open mountain slopes that are up to 4 500 metres above sea level.
The Lappet-faced Vulture has a natural distribution that extends across Africa and the Middle East. In Africa, it is found right from Egypt in the north to South Africa at the very tip of the continent. It can be found in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malawi and many other African countries. In South Africa, it can be found at the world-renowned Kruger National Park, the Spitskop Nature Reserve near Upington and the Blouberg Nature Reserve in the Soutpansberg of Limpopo.
Like other vultures, this impressive bird is a scavenger, which means that they eat animals that have already died (as opposed to hunting and killing the animals themselves). Only when carcasses are not readily available will the Lappet-faced Vulture eat living prey, which is usually a small animal (such as a rodent or a smaller bird).
The Lappet-faced Vulture is a sociable bird, interacting with other scavengers frequently around the carcass being enjoyed. However, it does not have the gregarious nature for which some vultures are known.
A Lappet-faced Vulture pair may have between one and three nests, which they will use over and over again. Some birds breed throughout the year (in the eastern part of Africa, usually), while others may breed only during certain seasons. In South Africa, they generally breed from May to about February. Individuals start breeding at around six years old. Both the male and female of the breeding pair sits on the one egg that she lays. The incubation period lasts for between 54 and 56 days.
This bird lives for between 20 and 50 years, depending on various environmental factors and the availability of food.
The Lappet-faced Vulture is listed as Vulnerable. Its biggest threat is the human population. Many die of poisoning, either intentional or accidental. Another threat is the increasing decline in the number of carcasses on which they can feed. This can be as a result of agriculture, pollution, urbanisation and hunting.
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