Images of vultures circling ominously overhead are often used by Hollywood to signal the imminent demise of someone lost or dying out in the wilderness. So, many people would know vultures to be carrion-eaters, picking the flesh off carcasses of animals that succumbed to the scorching midday sun or were killed by predators.
But one species of vulture is very different. Known as the ‘palm nut vulture’, it feeds almost exclusively on the fleshy outer portions (husk) of the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), or, less frequently, Raphia palm (Raphia spp.).1 It lives almost entirely in those areas of Africa where the oil palm occurs—forests, savannahs, and mangrove swamps.2
The very idea of a ‘vegetarian vulture’ using its sharp beak to tear/cut the husks of nuts (rather than to tear meat) would probably surprise most people.3 However, the palm nut vulture is apparently well-known across many nations of central, western and southern Africa, featuring on postage stamps of Tanzania, Gabon, Angola, Gambia and Ghana.4