Worldwide, vultures are one of the most threatened groups of birds. Today, sadly, they are burdened with cultural perceptions relating to death, decay and maliciousness. ©Stefan van Bremen, flickr

Because of many, current cultural biases around the world, vultures don’t immediately bring up in us feelings of empathy and likability. But they should.

According to BirdLife International, vultures are the bringers of life—not the takers. They clean our world and halt disease, stopping the spread of anthrax, botulism, rabies and tuberculosis. They are the sentries of our skies, directing rangers to the location of wildlife poachers. For centuries, vultures were revered for the vital role they play in our ecosystems. But now, they face persecution; they are being poisoned, hunted and exploited. In fact, some vulture populations have declined by 98 percent. In 2015, BirdLife International declared four African vulture species to be on the edge of extinction.

Poisoned baits placed by poachers and the market for vulture body parts in traditional medicines are putting at least six species of African vultures at risk of extinction. ©Video by BirdLife International

While rapid urbanization in parts of Africa and the massive growth of wind farms across the continent have worked to displace the birds and taken their share of the toll, poachers are delivering a double whammy. Some poachers target vultures for their parts, which can be sold for use in witchcraft or traditional medicines. Other poachers poison and kill them in an effort to throw off law enforcement, which uses the circling birds as a beacon for illegal activity. Taken together, poisoning and trade in traditional medicines account for 90 percent of reported vulture deaths.

Watch the short video below, published in October 2015. If it makes you feel just a bit more tolerant and understanding of a, perhaps, not-quite-so-beautiful bird that nonetheless we all need so desperately, the minute and a half you spend viewing the production will be worthwhile.

Have your feelings about vultures changed, as you learn more about them?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,