Stunning new photos of London Zoo’s 3-month-old critically endangered vulture chick, Egbert, have been released ahead of Endangered Species Day on 19 May.
The Ruppell’s griffon vulture chick thrilled keepers when it hatched in March – the first vulture to hatch at the conservation zoo in more than 40 years. However, the little one experienced a dramatic start to life after keepers had to intervene in the hatching process, assisting the tiny bird out of its egg.
Since then, Egbert’s development has gone from strength to strength: at 3-months-old, the vulture is now a whopping 4.5kg (40 times its hatch weight) and has been spending time with parents, Philomena and Cuthbert, in the zoo’s Land of the Lions habitat - after being hand-reared by specialist keepers.
“We’re really pleased with Egbert’s development so far,” zookeeper Robert Harland explained. “The soft grey chick fuzz is long gone and Egbert now sports the distinctive hunch-back and sharp beak of an adolescent vulture. He’s in the process of fledging and will soon develop his important flight feathers, which can grow to a foot long and enable vultures to soar high in the sky.”
Robert, who hand-reared the critically endangered bird, is helping the 70-day-old vulture through an important ‘physiotherapy’ regime - with daily gripping exercises to help him build strength in his feet and claws. Egbert is also regularly challenged by a special vulture-assault course, clambering over sticks and twigs to exercise his impressive claws.
“Over the next few months we’d expect to see Egbert build further strength in his feet, neck and wings. He’s already started to flap and stretch his wings, and that strength will keep developing until he’s a confident flyer.”
The rare vulture chick is a conservation success story for London Zoo and plays an important part in the European Breeding Programme for the critically endangered species, a collaborative programme between conservation zoos to ensure a genetically diverse, healthy back-up population of this important species.
Keepers at the conservation zoo are hopeful that Egbert, who is currently spending time with the other vultures for short periods of time under keeper supervision, will join the rest of the flock full-time later this year.
London Zoo has a long history with vultures: they were one of the first animals at London Zoo - the world’s oldest scientific zoo - when it opened almost 200 years ago. However, in that time the wild vulture population has sadly plummeted; in just 11 years these spectacular birds went from being classified as being of ‘Least Concern’ in 2004 to ‘Critically Endangered’ in 2015.
Ruppell’s griffon vultures are the world’s highest-flying birds, documented to have reached soaring heights of 10,973 meters above sea level – the same height as most aeroplanes. These extraordinary birds play a critical role in protecting ecosystems - by feeding on abandoned animal carcasses, they ensure the African countryside is free of harmful diseases.
ZSL, the international conservation charity behind London Zoo, has worked closely with Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) to protect vultures in Southern Asia: previously, London Zoo veterinarians flew to Nepal to investigate a spate of vulture deaths and were instrumental in successfully campaigning the governments of India, Nepal and Pakistan to ban the manufacture and importation of diclofenac - an anti-inflammatory used widely on cattle but lethal to the vultures who fed on their carcasses.
Visitors to London Zoo can catch a glimpse of Egbert, as well as 15,000 other incredible animals across the 36-acre site this May half-term. Families can enjoy an action-packed programme of fun at the conservation zoo’s Spring Family Festival.