[DIGEST: IFLScience, BBC, ndTV ]
While cute animal stories are often in the news because of the warm, fuzzy way they make readers feel, the real story behind this baby animal is how it came into the world. For the first time, a pair of male vultures has become proud parents to one lucky chick after successfully hatching a surrogate egg at an Amsterdam zoo.
The two griffon vultures had been living at the zoo since 2010 and were in a long-standing relationship for most of that time.
“We’ve had them for some years. They [would] always build a nest together, bond and mate together,” said zookeeper Job van Tol in a BBC News interview. “But, as two males, the one thing they couldn’t do was lay an egg.”
When van Tol and other zookeepers happened across an abandoned egg in their aviary, they agreed that this was finally the couple’s chance. After carefully watching it in an incubator, the zookeepers placed it into the couple’s shared nest. For two months, the couple incubated the egg in until a chick hatched out.
Homosexuality in the animal kingdom - and birds specifically - is surprisingly common. According to a report put out by the journal Nature, more than 130 bird species have been reported to engage in homosexual behavior, ranging from courtship to sex to parenting.
The griffon vulture is a large bird of prey native to mountainous regions across Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Like other vultures, the species sustains itself by scavenging, mainly eating carcasses of small dead mammals like rabbits and rats. Van Tol claims that male vultures are “programmed” to care for their young and alternate all parenting responsibilities with their partner. In a CBC interview, van Tol says that this happy couple does just that - one dad will stay in the nest to keep their chick warm and to protect it from other vultures, while the other dad will go out and forage for food.
The pair is reportedly very protective of their nearly 2-month old hatchling. According to Dr. Corinne Kendall, a vulture expert at the North Carolina Zoo, this maternal behavior is perfectly normal for male and female vultures.
Because this vulture species tend to lay only one egg annually, this story is fantastic news for conservationists and birding-enthusiasts the world over. The Amsterdam zoo, which is a part of a European breeding program for griffon vultures, is currently investigating whether it is feasible for them to return this chick into the wild.