Lappet-Faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotos

The Lappet-Faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos), also known as the Nubian Vulture, is a significant and imposing bird of prey, recognized for its powerful build and formidable presence in its native habitats. This old world vulture belongs to the Accipitridae family and is the only member of the genus Torgos.

Taxonomically, the Lappet-faced Vulture is classified as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus: Torgos
  • Species: Torgos tracheliotos

Physical Characteristics

A Lappet-Faced Vulture on Mopane tree
Lappet-Faced Vulture

The Lappet-Faced Vulture is the largest vulture in Africa, with adults typically reaching lengths between 95 and 115 cm and a wingspan that can extend over 2.9 metres and a weight of up to 8 kilograms.

The bird’s plumage is dark brown, contrasting sharply with the white feathers of its thighs and the underside of its tail. Its bald head, distinctive for the lappet-like folds of skin on either side, ranges in color from pink to dull red, becoming flushed when the bird is excited.

These lappets are used to regulate body temperature and to protect the neck from the bites of other vultures during feeding. The large, powerful beak is capable of tearing through tough hides, setting it apart from other scavenger birds.

Habitat and Behavior

Lappet-Faced Vultures are found in a wide range of habitats, from deserts and arid savannahs to grasslands and mountainous regions across southern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. They are typically solitary birds, only forming groups when feeding or at roosting sites.

As scavengers, they primarily feed on carrion, often being the first to arrive and the last to leave a carcass. They will often dominate other vulture species.

Their powerful beak allows them to tear open tough hides and tendons, consuming parts of a large carcass that other scavengers can’t reach.


These vultures breed in trees, where they build large nests out of sticks. The female typically lays just one egg, which both parents incubate. Once hatched, the chick is cared for by both parents for an extended period of time before it is capable of independent survival.

Conservation Status

Although fairly common to see them in Namibia, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. The primary threats facing the species include habitat loss, poisoning (both accidental and intentional), and collision with power lines.

Hunting for traditional medicine and cultural practices also leads to a reduction in their numbers. In South Africa, for example, the population has declined by over 80% in the last few decades.

Conservation efforts are necessary to protect the Lappet-Faced Vulture and its habitat. These efforts are ongoing to protect and conserve this remarkable bird, through initiatives such as habitat protection, monitoring programs, and public awareness campaigns.

Cultural Significance

Lappet-Faced Vultures have cultural significance in many societies where they occur. They are often associated with death and renewal due to their scavenging habits, and they have been featured in myths, folklore, and traditional ceremonies.

In summary, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is a remarkable and unique species that plays a crucial role in its ecosystem. Its significant size, unique physical characteristics, and key role as a scavenger make it an integral part of the biodiversity of the regions it inhabits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the habitat of the lappet-faced vulture?

The lappet-faced vulture, also known as the Nubian vulture, is a large bird of prey found in various habitats across Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They are commonly found in arid and semi-arid regions, such as savannas, grasslands, and deserts.

How does the lappet-faced vulture hunt for food?

The lappet-faced vulture is a scavenger and feeds on carrion. They have a keen sense of smell and can detect the scent of a dead animal from several miles away. Once they locate the carcass, they use their powerful beaks to tear through the tough hide and flesh to get to the meat.

What is the average wingspan of the lappet-faced vulture?

The lappet-faced vulture has a wingspan of up to 2.9 metres, making it one of the largest vultures in the world. They can weigh up to 7 kg and stand up to 1.2 metres tall.

How does the lappet-faced vulture contribute to the ecosystem?

The lappet-faced vulture plays an important role in the ecosystem by cleaning up carrion and preventing the spread of disease. They also help to control the population of other scavengers, such as hyenas and jackals, by competing with them for food.

What are the threats to the survival of the lappet-faced vulture?

The lappet-faced vulture is currently listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main threats to their survival include habitat loss, poisoning from pesticides and lead, and hunting for traditional medicine.

How does the lappet-faced vulture compare to other vultures in terms of size and behaviour?

The lappet-faced vulture is one of the largest vultures in the world, with a wingspan that rivals that of the Andean condor. They are also known for their aggressive behaviour and have been observed attacking other vultures to steal their food. Unlike some other vultures, they are not migratory and tend to stay in one area year-round.