Although vultures do not have many predators that prey on them, animals who have been known to eat vultures in the past include hawks, snakes, hyena, jackals, and even humans.
Vultures are important in balancing the ecosystem. Vultures feed on carcasses that are at-times diseases infested and can be hazardous to the environment, wild animals, and humans.
Therefore, by helping eradicate these disease-infected carcasses, vultures can stop the spread of diseases to both humans and wild animals.
They are not affected by the bacteria in the carcasses since they have stomach acid with a pH of less than 2, which neutralizes the bacteria. Even with their immense benefits to the ecosystem, vultures are at risk of extinction.
What Eats Vultures? Top 6 Predators
|Type of Animal
Humans can eat and have eaten vultures, although it’s not common. Nevertheless, certain human activities make them a threat to vultures’ existence.
The main threat to vultures due to human activities is the use of anti-inflammatory drugs on livestock. For example, in India, all nine vulture species are in danger of extinction due to the use of diclofenac on livestock.
Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory drug used on livestock, but it’s deadly on vultures that feed on carcasses. Additionally, the use of poison to kill elephants and rhinos is also a threat to vultures. When vultures feed on the carcasses, the poison can be lethal.
On the other hand, poachers use poisons to kill the vultures to avoid creating suspicion to the game rangers on the presence of dead animals. It has been projected that continued use of poison will increase the loss rate of African vultures to more than 90 percent over the next 50 years.
In some parts of Africa, vultures are hunted for medicinal purposes. Some cultures in southern Africa believe that vulture parts have medicinal properties that can cure various diseases. Furthermore, they believe that vulture parts can boost their strength, speed, and endurance.
Moreover, humans can kill vultures through accidental poisoning. Herders usually lace dead livestock with poison to kill predators preying on their livestock. The same poison will kill any vulture that feeds on the carcass.
The declining number of vultures can also be attributed to habitat loss. Habitat loss is a result of increased farming, industrialization, and urbanization. Vultures are at risk of being contaminated by industrial and agricultural pollution.
Urbanization has resulted in increased power lines causing significant levels of vulture mortality due to electrocution. Many vultures are killed after a collision with wind turbine blades. The threat is expected to rise in the coming decades due to the increased development and deployment of green technology.
Human persecution of vultures through shooting is also a threat to their population. The activity of shooting vultures is mainly for sport, and it contributed to their decline, especially in Europe and United States.
|Accipiter or Bueto
|Type of Animal
|North America, Central America, West Indies, Jamaica
Hawks are predatory birds with excellent hunting skills. They feed on small snakes and rats. Although vultures are larger than hawks, hawks sometimes prey on small vultures. It takes five to seven years for vultures to mature.
Hawks will prey on young hawks from their nest, especially the red-tailed hawks. Additionally, young vulture dependence on their parents for food makes them highly vulnerable, especially between the first 130 days after hatching.
Hawks can’t attack and kill adult vultures due to their large size compared to the hawks; chicks are smaller and cannot defend themselves from a hawk attack.
This significantly affects the number of vultures, considering that a vulture only lays a single egg every year. Therefore, preying on small vultures by hawks means that the numbers of vultures will drastically decline.
|Type of Animal
|northern Africa, the Middle East, and India
Both vultures and hyenas are scavengers and largely survive in the forest by eating carcasses. Although hyenas are scavengers, they sometimes hunt and kill their prey, unlike vultures that solely rely on carcasses.
In most cases, vultures and hyenas share the same food resource for their meal. Therefore, a fight between vultures and hyenas is expected as they fight for food. Additionally, they are not from the same pack or flock. Thus they will automatically fight.
In most cases, especially when there is plenty of food, the two live in harmony, but when food is scarce, they usually fight. It is during these fights that hyenas kill vultures. Hyenas are skillful killers with strong jaws, and they work in packs, making them lethal when they attack vultures.
When hyena kills a vulture, they usually eat it and scare or warn other vultures from interfering with their feeding session.
|Type of Animal
Similar to hyenas, jackals are also scavengers and hunters. Jackals usually rely on kills left by other predators, but they usually hunt small animals when food is scarce.
Vultures usually nest in rock crevices, caves, mammal burrows, abandoned nests, or thickets. These nesting areas make young vultures vulnerable to other predators like jackals.
Considering that the maturity period of vultures is five to seven years increases their vulnerability to other predators. Therefore, jackals can feed on young vultures during food scarcity, especially if the nest is left unattended.
When food is plenty, jackals and vultures usually eat together harmoniously. Still, mature vultures can be attacked and killed by jackals when it is limited, especially when they become persistent in snatching the leftover from the jackals.
It is important to note that vultures can also dominate jackals if their numbers outshine them. Additionally, it is rare for jackals to kill mature vultures. Still, the tug of war over food has seen several vultures killed by jackals, especially when the vulture is persistent and the jackals are many.
5. Jaguars (and other big cats)
|Type of Animal
|Amazon of South America
If the nest is left unattended, jaguars and other big cats prey on young vultures. They may also kill adult vultures when fighting for food during seasons when food is scarce.
Although they are not a major threat to vultures, big cats still pose a danger to the vultures.
|Type of Animal
The primary source of snakes’ food is small wild and domestic animals such as rats, rabbits, and chickens. Snakes also feed on bird eggs. However, they occasionally prey on vultures when food is scarce and prefer the young ones because they are weak and vulnerable.
Additionally, vultures prefer to nest in habitats also preferred by snakes. This makes them susceptible to snake attacks. Certain snake species strictly feed on eggs. Considering that snakes can maneuver almost anywhere, they usually feed on vultures’ eggs.
Although vultures are highly vigilant and protective of their eggs until they hatch, the female usually leaves them unattended to feed. During this period, snakes snatch and feed on vulture’s eggs. Vultures lay only one egg each year; thus, any lost egg can be catastrophic to the vulture’s existence.
Some larger snakes also feed on young vultures.
Importance of Vultures to the Ecosystem
Vultures are extremely helpful to the ecosystem as they provide an array of ecological, economic, and cultural services. Vultures feed on animal carcasses that are diseases infested, thus preventing their spread.
Vulture stomach acid has a pH of less than 2, making it highly corrosive and effective in neutralizing the toxins and diseases found in the carcasses.
On the other hand, there will be an increase in other scavengers such as dogs without vultures. A case in point has been noted in India, where there has been a drastic decline in the number of vultures and a sharp increase in the population of feral dogs.
The increase in feral dogs poses a huge danger to the human population, especially by spreading diseases like rabies. This has also been noted in India, where dog bites and rabies infection rates have drastically increased.
Apart from ecological importance, vultures still have socio-economic and cultural value. The Parsi community in India believes in preserving the dead where they are laid in low mountains to be disposed of by scavengers, including vultures.
Although vultures do not have many predators, human activity poses a huge threat to their existence. Vultures have huge benefits for the ecosystem and humans by reducing the spread of diseases and bacteria in the carcasses.
Therefore, it is important awareness is created to preserve them.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.