Taking a little break from genomics this afternoon, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most people reading this do not love vultures. True, they do eat carrion, and true, they look a bit weird. But I’ve been in love with these kooky raptors my entire life. And so, as it turns out, has biologist and wildlife photographer Munir Virani.

Speaking at TED@Nairobi in 2012, he makes the case for why we need to overlook our disgust and pay more attention to these amazing birds. They are a vital component of our ecosystems, and an important check for the spread of disease. For example, did you know that a vulture’s digestive system can neutralise anthrax spores? Vultures are a “dead end” for many of the most devastating diseases. 

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Content Manager Liz Harley and hooded vulture Butch Cassidy

But vultures are critically endangered across the world, largely due to exposure to veterinary drugs.  And where vulture populations are dwindling, instances of anthrax, plague, and rabies, all of which are killed off by vulture digestion, are on the rise. Where there are no vultures, populations of dogs and rats multiply to fill the gap, bringing these diseases into contact with human populations. Now, more than ever, Munir argues that we need to change our perception and save the vultures. 

(And in case you need me to prove how much of a vulture nerd I am, on my last day off I spent several hours enjoying the company of this beautiful boy, a hooded vulture named Butch Cassidy.)

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