On Monday, the skies over the zoo were choked with softball-sized hail. It raked enclosures and struck guests, staffers and animals alike. One visitor’s video shows hail plunging into the water at a bear enclosure and violently churning the water like a wave thrashing a rocky shore. Motswari was around eight months old when she smashed into a power line in South Africa, sending her into a violent spiral toward the ground. She survived, but the injury robbed her of the key trait for vultures to eat and to live. Every dead Cape vulture impacts the species, which has declined as much as 94 percent in three generations. She could no longer fly. At least fourteen people and a number of animals were injured, and hundreds of cars were damaged. The guests and staff were evacuated. A 4-year-old Muscovy duck named Daisy was killed. Motswari, too, lay dead. She was 13.
Motswari was a member of an eight-vulture cadre spirited off to the United States to breed chicks in a race against encroaching doom, said Kerri Wolter, the chief executive and founder of VulPro, a South Africa-based conservation group that helped get Motswari and others to the country.
She settled at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado becoming an icon for awareness and fundraising for the often maligned and vastly misunderstood birds, Wolter told The Washington Post. “It’s a massive loss,” Wolter said of her death.
But the photo was widely misinterpreted, Wolter said, and people thought of the bird as a feathered Grim Reaper. Vultures eat things that are dead but not decomposed. It was likely around to eat scraps, and some even eat human waste. So it was probably keeping the area clean.
It would not eat a child alive, or even recently dead. It’s not strong enough, Wolter said.
“That did a lot of good for Africa,” Wolter said of the photo, “but a lot of bad for vultures.”
Around 4,200 breeding pairs remain, she said, and Africa would benefit from a reversal in their fortunes. If they can get to carcasses first, their iron stomachs help protect them from diseases that ravage people and animals, blunting diseases like Anthrax, tuberculosis, and rabies, Wolter said.