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Drought and downing equal vulture supermarkets
Date:1/9/2014

NEW YORK (EMBARGO: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 5 PM EST, USA) African vultures are famous for quickly finding carcasses; so much so that they are considered clairvoyants in parts of Africa. But just how do vultures know where to find food across vast regions in the first place? In a paper appearing in the January 8th edition of the journal PLoS ONE, Dr. Corinne Kendall of Columbia University and African Vulture Technical Advisor with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and colleagues have discovered that vultures, rather than aggregating where animals are most abundant as previously thought, instead focus on areas and conditions where animals are most likely to die.

For decades, scientists have assumed that vultures would follow the largest food source available. In the case of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, this would be the migratory wildebeest herds, which in recent years have numbered in the millions. Instead, this study found that two of the three species of vultures studied preferentially selected areas of low rainfall and thus presumably high prey mortality.

Data were collected from GSM-GPS telemetry devices attached to three species of vultures in Mara-Serengeti ecosystem of East Africa. The devices send text messages back to the researcher detailing individual bird's location and altitude. The data revealed that vultures focused on the immense wildebeest herds only during the dry season when hundreds of wildebeest die each day from starvation or drowning during their dangerous river crossings.

"Our study shows that vultures seek out areas not where wildlife are most abundant, but where they are most likely to die," said lead author Corinne Kendall. "This shows that for vultures, prey mortality is more important than prey abundance."

The researchers found that for the rest of the year, vultures travel enormous distances in search of food.

Kendall said: "What has really surprised us is what t
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Contact: Stephen Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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