Pretoria - For the first time in 15 years the king vultures at the National Zoological Gardens are raising their own chick.
Birding conservation staff at the zoo are elated that not only was the egg incubated, but the healthy four-week-old chick is being raised by its parents.
In the past, staff had to remove the eggs from the king vulture nest as the parents were either breaking them or abandoning them shortly after they had been laid.
The parents rearing the chick are a male bird, aged 49 years, and a 28-year-old female. King vultures are known to live for at least 40 years in captivity.
In 2006, the zoo received a younger female (approximately a year old) and paired her with the young male already at the zoo.
It was hoped the new, younger pair would start breeding and hatch and rear their own chicks. King vultures reach sexual maturity between five and seven years old.
In 2012, the older pair laid two eggs. The first one was removed for artificial incubation but it was found to be infertile.
The second egg was left with the parents, but did not hatch.
The second option available to the zoo, in order to get parent-reared king vulture chicks, was to remove the eggs and allow them to be incubated by another pair of birds in another zoo.
Instead of the younger pair of birds starting to breed as was expected, it was the older pair that laid and successfully incubated an egg. Staff were not expecting a chick because the reproduction rate is very low in old birds.
One option staff considered was to remove the egg from the nest and transport it to the zoo’s Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre in Limpopo for artificial incubation. However, the distance between Pretoria and Mokopane was a concern so it was decided to give the older pair the opportunity to hatch and rear their own egg.
Staff were delighted when they discovered the hatched chick in the nest on September 2.
King vultures are currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, the world population is on the decline due to fluctuating range size and habitat extent and quality. - Pretoria News