In an effort to restore the population of endangered red-headed vultures in Thailand, conservationists at the Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo in the country’s northeast are taking a unique approach to breeding and raising these magnificent birds. The team, led by Thai conservationist Watchiradol Phangpanya, uses costumes to imitate the appearance of adult vultures while caring for the hatchlings. This method is intended to prevent the young birds from imprinting on humans, thereby better preparing them for eventual release into the wild.
The first red-headed, or Asian king vulture, bred in Asia, is currently being nurtured by the conservation team. The chick, which will eventually develop black feathers, is fed a diet of rabbit, deer, chicken, and rat meat to simulate its natural diet in the wild. Watchiradol carefully monitors the young vulture’s nutrition and overall health, understanding the importance of proper development for its future success in the wild. Following each meal, the chick is exposed to sunlight to absorb vital vitamin D, necessary for its physical and behavioral development.
Once a key player in the ecosystem due to its role as a scavenger, the red-headed vulture has faced extinction in the wild in Thailand and a significant population decline worldwide, largely due to hunting and habitat changes. However, after nearly two decades of conservation efforts, the Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo is finally seeing progress, with another egg being incubated in captivity by its parents. The conservation team hopes to breed a large enough population to eventually release these birds back into their natural habitat.
Ultimately, the goal is to reintroduce the Asian king vulture to the skies of Thailand, specifically within the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO heritage site. Zoo director Thanachon Kensingh expresses optimism about the project’s success and the potential impact on the sanctuary’s ecosystem, which was once home to the largest community of Asian king vultures.