Feb 112012

Many zoo animals get used to a set routine, and the turkey vulture in the Southwest United States exhibit in the children’s zoo was no exception. The exhibit, which he shared with a few prairie dogs and assorted lizards, was an oblong, walled enclosure with glass in the front. Children could see in through the glass and adults could lean over the open top.

The vulture was brought inside every afternoon, although not always at the same time. Some days the bird was ready to go in before keepers came to get him and he would hop up and wait on the front wall of the enclosure. If that subtle hint wasn’t taken within a few minutes he would simply hop down and walk to the holding area.

Often keepers working inside the building would be warned of his approach, either by visitor’s screams as he marched resolutely through the crowds, or by the distinctive clicking of his toenails on the cement. Other times they would just open the door and find him waiting impatiently to be let in.

His greatest escapade, however, was the day that he made it completely out of the children’s zoo. Somehow he managed to end up inside the Kodiak bear grotto. The adult female bear had recently died, but her three young male offspring were still in the exhibit. Although they had nearly reached full adult size, the bears were still immature. And they didn’t quite know how to deal with this unusual creature that had suddenly appeared in their grotto.

The turkey vulture had no such qualms. Hissing and flapping his wings, he had those three young bears, each of which outweighed him by quite a few hundred pounds, backed into a corner. The bears were scrambling backwards over each other in an attempt to get as far away from him as possible.

The situation was eventually resolved peacefully. The bears’ den door was opened, allowing them to beat a hasty, if undignified, retreat to the safety of their den, and the turkey vulture was quickly recaptured and returned safely to the children’s zoo.

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