|Subspecies|| T. t. negevensis|
T. t. nubicus
T. t. tracheliotos
|Population||8,500 est. (2015)|
The lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) is a very large representative of the Old World family of vultures, Aegypiinae, inhabiting large parts of Africa as well as parts of the Arabian Peninsula. As a result of the continued decline in population, the IUCN classifies the species as endangered.
Lappet-faced vultures are large, with a body length of 37–45 inches, a wingspan of 8.2–9.5 feet, and weigh up to 9.7 to 20.7 pounds; females are slightly larger than males, and the female of the negavensis subspecies can weigh up to 30 pounds. Of the Old World vultures only the Eurasian black vulture is larger.
The back and upper wings are a dark brown to black. The lower wings are as dark as the wings, on the lower wings a narrow white band is formed by missing ceilings. Breast and belly are strongly brown-streaked on a white background.
The head, like the front of the upper neck, is unfeathered, wrinkled, and pale pink. Flaps of skin on either side of the neck resulted in the name "eared vulture" in some localities. When excited, the naked head and neck areas become more intense red. The unfeathered part of the legs as well as the toes are pale blue to gray. The iris is dark brown.
- Torgos tracheliotos negevensis; Egypt (Sinai peninsula), southern Israel and Arabian Peninsula
- Torgos tracheliotos nubicus; Egypt and northern Sudan
- Torgos tracheliotos tracheliotos; southwestern Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa
The species inhabits savannas, dry valleys with little or no grass covering the ground, deserts with wadis and few trees, and mountain slopes up to 14,000 feet elevation. When searching for food, areas with denser vegetation will be searched; human habitation will also be searched, such as along road edges, but they tend to avoid them.
Lappet-faced vultures primarily eat carrion, which is found by sight on its own, or by observing other vultures, and it is usually first at the carrion site. The species is often the first to attack the carrion, and they are the only African vultures capable of ripping the skin of large mammals. Although they are dominant against other vultures on the carrion, they usually stay on the edge, with a preference for skin remnants, tendons and other coarse remains. A large carcass will have or two lappet-faced vultures, with a maximum of ten, versus other vulture species.
They also subsist on smaller fare; rodents, small birds, reptiles are part of the diet, and they have been known to make kills on their own. Food fed to the chicks, consists of such small prey items.
The brewing varies according to the geographical distribution, it falls in the north of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula in the period from November to July or until September; in parts of East Africa it is year-round; and in southern Africa from May to January. The nest is up to 87 inches wide and 28 inches deep, is built on the crown of an acacia or other similar tree. It consists of interwoven branches and is padded with fur, hair and dry grass. The one or two brown-spotted white eggs are incubated for 54–56 days, in which normally only one young bird is raised.
Due to the high levels of sun exposure the young bird must be almost constantly shaded by the parents until the nestling has formed the back end plumage at the age of about 65 to 78 days and is sufficiently capable of regulating its body temperature. The young bird is fed up to an age of 30 days by the parents, after which he can eat independently from whatever food is deposited into the nest. At about 90 days, the young bird begins flight exercises, leaving the nest at the age of 125–135 days. The young birds don't go very far, however; they remain dependent on the parents for four to six more months.
The population of these birds vary greatly from one region to the next, but overall the species has declined significantly in the last 80 years. It has been extinct in Algeria and Tunisia since the 1930s; in the Western Sahara in the 1950s; in Morocco in the early 1970s; while in the south of Egypt and possibly also in Mauritania only small populations survive. In Saudi Arabia at least 500 vultures live with increasing tendency. In Nigeria, the stock has been drifting drastically since the end of the 1970s and today the species is possibly extinct there; even in Israel the species is no longer a breeding bird. The population in the whole of southern Africa is slowly declining. The IUCN estimates the total population in Africa to be at least 8000 birds.
The main causes of the decline are poisoning by farmers to control livestock predators; both strychnine and carbofuran have been used, and such has also been used by big game poachers who believe the birds give away the locations to recent illegal kills. Direct persecution is also employed; farmers believe the birds attack livestock and chicken directly, and there is also the factor of collection in the exotic pet trade. Other factors include nesting disturbance and habitat destruction.