Wild-Born Cinereous Vulture Explores Yard at Denver Zoo

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Cinereous vulture chick “Aztai” was rescued by Denver Zoo conservation biologists after being permanently injured in Mongolia and will support genetic diversity in zoos.

Cinereous vulture Aztai gets comfortable in her new yard at Denver Zoo.

Zoo staff knew a vulture that couldn’t fly would not survive in the wild and decided to bring the chick to Denver Zoo. This decision provided a place for the bird while improving the genetic diversity of the North American zoo population.

A “lucky” cinereous vulture from Mongolia is now exploring her new yard at Denver Zoo. The young bird, named Aztai for the Mongolian word for “lucky,” was rescued and brought to the United States after zoo conservation experts determined she would not be able to survive in the wild due to a damaged wing. Visitors can now see Aztai in her new home outside the zoo's old Pachyderm Building.

Aztai was discovered by Denver Zoo conservation biologists as they studied cinereous vultures, their nests and migration and movement patterns at Mongolia’s Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in August 2010. While taking measurements of chicks in the nests, they found a chick with multiple, significant open fractures on its left wing. They weren’t sure how the bird became injured. Staff cared for the chick, providing food and shelter, and fortunately the bird survived; however her wing was permanently damaged. She would never be able to fly.

Zoo staff knew a vulture that couldn’t fly would not survive in the wild and decided to bring the chick to Denver Zoo. This decision provided a place for the bird while improving the genetic diversity of the North American zoo population of less than 50 individuals. A lengthy permitting process eventually allowed Aztai to be the first cinereous vulture to ever be exported from Mongolia. She arrived in July 2012 and lived behind-the-scenes until she grew a little older and a suitable space was developed for her to live.

Cinereous vultures, also known as Eurasian black vultures, once lived in large populations from Spain across Asia. Unfortunately, they have suffered from pesticide poisoning, habitat destruction and illegal hunting and are now highly fragmented in the eastern half of their original range. Mongolia is home to one of their last healthy populations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently classifies them as “Near Threatened” with only 7,200–10,000 individuals in the wild.

The large, brown vultures are among the heaviest birds in the world, with adults reaching weights of up to 22 pounds. In places like Mongolia, they help nomadic people reduce the spread of disease by feeding on dead livestock and wildlife.

About Denver Zoo: Denver Zoo is home to 3,600 animals representing more than 600 species and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA accreditation assures the highest standards of animal care.

A leader in environmental action, Denver Zoo is dedicated to ensuring the safety of the environment in support of all species and is the first U.S. zoo to receive ISO 14001 certification for the entire facility and operations. This international certification ensures the zoo is attaining the highest environmental standards.

Since 1996, Denver Zoo has participated in 594 conservation projects in 62 countries on all seven continents. In 2012 alone, Denver Zoo participated in 98 projects in 18 countries and more than $1 million in funds was spent by the zoo in support of animal conservation in the field.

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Tiffany Barnhart:
Denver Zoo
(720) 337-1444
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Sean Andersen-Vie
Denver Zoo
(720) 337-1418
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