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Florida Guide > Disney General

New Baby Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures at Animal Kingdom Lodge

In January 2009, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge was delighted to welcome two new baby Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures. Of course the birth of any new baby animal is greeted with pleasure, but these little chicks are particularly special, as they are the first of this threatened species to hatch out at Walt Disney World Resort. Measuring about eight inches, these baby chicks weighed a tiny six ounces.

Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures are scavengers, scouring the land for carrion and eating the remains of other dead animals. They do not eat live prey, relying only on finding abandoned carcases. They often travel huge distances from their nests to find food – as much as 90 miles is possible. When a vulture spots food it circles overhead, and other vultures are quickly drawn to the spot. Once there, a group of birds can devour everything edible in a matter of minutes. Whilst this may seem slightly unsavoury, they do actually perform a necessary function, a bit like the refuse collectors of nature, removing decaying matter and cleaning up the area.

The Ruppell’s Griffin has black and brown feathers all over its body, with smaller white ones on its neck and head. As you would expect of a scavenger, it has a sharp beak which it uses to tear meat from carcasses. An adult Ruppell’s Vulture can grow to a height of nearly three feet, and their wingspan can reach almost eight feet. They may weigh between 15 and 18 lbs, and possess amazing high-flying skills. They are thought to be the highest flying bird on record, and indeed, in November 1975, one was sucked into a jet engine nearly 38, 000 ft above the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Thankfully, although the plane was damaged, it was able to land safely, with no loss of life. A single vulture can fly more than three miles in the space of just six minutes, and they can stay airborne for up to seven hours a day.

Ruppell’s Vultures are social birds, living together in large flocks, where they roost, nest and feed. They pair up for life, and this means the birds may be together for forty or fifty years. Colonies of 100 pairs of birds are common. Although at the moment they are merely threatened, their numbers have been in decline over the last twenty years. There is naturally some concern about this and the International Union for Conservancy of Nature are anxious to raise their status to ‘threatened. ’ Those members of the Animal Programs Team at Disney who look after these birds are hoping to not only create more awareness of the difficulties these birds face, but they also hope to increase the population.

When you next visit Animal Kingdom you may be lucky enough to see these amazing creatures.

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Page added on: 11 April 2009
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