Spending 48 hours in an aviary full of vultures might not be everyone’s idea of how to spend their weekend but it is for Peter McLaren, an Animal Trainer & Presenter at Banham Zoo, as he attempts to raise awareness and much needed funds for vulture conservation.
Peter has worked at Banham Zoo for almost 7 years and is passionate about vultures. The public perception of nature’s ultimate recyclers is often a negative one, considered ugly, dirty and even dangerous by many, but they are in fact a vital part of the ecosystems in which they live.
On Sunday 4th September, conservation organisations all over the world will be coming together to celebrate all things ‘vulture’ on International Vulture Awareness Day.
To draw attention to the plight of vultures all over the world whilst also raising awareness and of course funds for their conservation, Peter has decided to spend 48hrs living inside the aviary with the vultures that he helps to care for!
Peter has chosen to support the GYPS Restoration Project in Pakistan, a programme that Banham Zoo has supported for many years, through its parent charity, the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA). This project aims to assist one of the most critically endangered vulture species, the Oriental white-backed vulture.
Once described, as recently as 1985 as, ‘possibly the most abundant large bird of prey in the world’, the Oriental white backed vulture has suffered from what can only be described as a catastrophic decline in numbers. It is estimated that over 99% of its former population have died over the last 30 years, recent estimates suggest there are only between 3,500 and 15,000 birds left in the wild, a far cry from a once estimated population of 7 million birds.
Many other species of vulture have also become incredibly endangered during the last 40 years, in fact no other group of animals in the world today has declined in numbers as quickly as some vulture species. Research identified the cause of many declines as a commonly used veterinary drug, Diclofenac, used to treat domestic livestock, it is unfortunately highly toxic to vultures and as the vultures cleaned up carcasses treated with the drug they died in their thousands.
The Oriental white-backed vulture is now classified as Critically Endangered, so to prove that vultures are actually amazing creatures that deserve our help and support Peter will spend 48hrs in the vulture aviary at Banham Zoo with the Rüppell’s griffon and African white-backed vultures, the African cousins of the Oriental white-backed vulture.
Peter will enter the aviary at the 2.30pm Bird of Prey display on Friday 2nd September and that is where he will stay (apart from toilet breaks), sleeping in a simple hammock at night with the birds that he cares so much about until 48hrs later when his colleagues will let him out at the same Bird of Prey display on Sunday 4th September, coinciding with International Vulture Awareness Day.
Peter is hoping to raise £2000 for vulture conservation and anyone wishing to donate to his cause can do so via http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/vulturechallenge
The last word goes to Peter, ‘a world without vultures is unthinkable, I think so and I hope you will too, please give generously and help me stop what was once a relatively common bird of prey from disappearing forever’.