The secret behind vulture feeding at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

In ADVENTURE, AFRICA by Janice and George4 Comments

vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

Who knew vultures are under threat and need to be fed! Well, they do at Victoria Falls in Africa. (Victoria Falls, by the way, is the humongous waterfall between Zambia and Zimbabwe that many people visit when on an African safari.)

So set aside your preconceived notions about vultures – ooh, icky and gross-looking creatures! (not anything like the beautiful birds of Costa Rica) – and learn why vulture feeding at Victoria Falls is a good and necessary thing, and fascinating to watch too.

vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

This guy looks more fierce than ugly, don’t you think? photo Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Why are vultures in trouble?

Vulture populations are dropping like a stone. In fact, the scavenger birds are on their way to becoming extinct in Africa. Yet they’re critical to keeping the eco-system clean. By clearing away dead carcasses, they help to spread diseases like rabies, TB and anthrax.

Unfortunately, man has become their major enemy in Africa.

Poachers who kill and cut the tusks off elephants then inject them with poison, so vultures who feed on the elephant carcasses die – otherwise clouds of live vultures alert rangers and signal the poachers’ location. Vultures are also killed by local tribes people for traditional medicines. And they’re electrocuted by accidentally flying into power lines.

Vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is doing something to help the vultures. For the past 18 years, the hotel has been feeding them, and guests and visitors to the area are invited to come and watch the show (called the “Vulture Culture” experience) for free.

In front of the lodge’s Buffalo Bar, down a dirt pathway through dry scrub, there’s a “hide” – a viewing deck with concrete benches on which to sit, covered by a canopy of branches for shade.

vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

You can safely watch the vulture feeding at Victoria Falls from the comfort of a shady hide

You first get a briefing on the plight of the endangered birds and their ecological importance.

Then the vulture guide hauls out a gunny sack with heads, feet and leftovers of beef, chickens, warthogs – whatever the chef doesn’t use in the lodge’s kitchen – to a red dirt patch, where he  tosses out the carcass bits before quickly running away.

vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

Our brave man tosses out carcasses for the vultures to eat

The vultures, which for the previous hour have been flying in from miles around and gathering on nearby trees, suddenly swoop in.

vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

Ahhh! Here they come to feed…

It’s quite a sight to watch them tearing into the bloody pieces!

You can hear the whoosh whoosh of their big wings flapping (they have wing spans of three feet) as they push and jostle one another to get at the food. The ugly red-headed birds are hooded vultures, while the others are mainly white-backed vultures.

This baby hooded vulture is admittedly ugly – photo Kevin, Kdsphotos

The feeding we watched attracted more than 200 vultures (typical). And it was all over quite quickly – within 10 minutes or so…

Lunch at the Buffalo Bar

By then, we were actually hungry ourselves. And so we headed to the Buffalo Bar, which must be one of the coolest bars in the world.

The Buffalo Bar is hands-down one of the best bars we’ve sipped cocktails in

It’s basically a fancily-done-up, two-level, wooden viewing platform covered with a thatched roof, with buffalo wood carvings decorating the bar area. And it offers staggering views of the bush plain below; it overlooks a large watering hole, where during lunch, we saw a herd of a dozen elephants, babies included, drinking and giving themselves dust baths with their trunks (by spraying dust over their backs).

The hard question was: Should we order the famous buffalo burgers?

The buffalo burgers are hugely popular in the Buffalo Bar – photo Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

We went for mojitos and the local “Zambezi” beer and shared instead a plate of two African pies (one beef, the other chicken-and-mushroom), made fresh by the hotel’s pastry chef each day, along with fresh-cut fries. Yummy!

We were also entertained by a couple of baboons that jumped in and onto the bar, snatching an orange and other fruit before scampering off. (We can’t resist watching monkeys, be it in Bali, Africa or anywhere else we travel.)

It was a pleasant way to finish off our “Vulture Culture” experience! If you’re in Victoria Falls, the free vulture feeding (followed by lunch at the Buffalo Bar) is well worth the time.

If you go to the vulture feeding at Victoria Falls

  • The “Vulture Culture” experience occurs promptly at 1:00 pm at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, in front of the Buffalo Bar. Plan to be there about 15 minutes beforehand.
  • Admission is free.

All photos are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except lead photo and where noted)


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VULTURE feeding in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe


We stayed as media guests at the Victoria Falls Safari Club, a boutique 20-room hotel sharing the same grounds as the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. We’re always free to write what we want – the good, the bad and the ugly…

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Comments

  1. Wow! Look at the detail!

    I’ve seen a few vultures and hawks in the UK and Germany, but never like this. It looks a little scary and I would be enormously glad to be behind the wall observing, before having a brisk cocktail, and a nice lunch!

    It reminds me of the vultures used by the Parsi people in India…!

    1. Author

      We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we went. The vulture guide sure dashed away quickly after tossing out the food! (So there’s probably a risk he could get accidentally pecked or scratched if he got in the way). Visitors, of course, are safe :-). And, yes, the cocktail and lunch went down nicely afterward!

  2. Bad enough to have natural predators, it’s unfortunate that vultures have human ones, too! Great photography! I’ve never seen one quite so close up~

    1. Author

      Before we attended this “Vulture Culture” experience, we assumed vultures were creatures who had no problem surviving (like mosquitoes)! So many African animals are under threat — elephants, rhinos, giraffes and now vultures…

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