Frightening? Disgusting? Or are these creatures the immune system of Mother Earth making our environment a great deal safer?
Yes, vultures devour rotting flesh. The acid in their digestive system is about 100 times more acidic than human digestive juices, with a pH that borders on zero. pH ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being “neutral.” Any pH under 7 is acidic, and anything over 7 is “base.” With a pH of around zero, the vultures’ digestive system is able to digest almost anything. It’s said that a vulture could eat and digest a shovel. Maybe that explains my disappearing garden tools! Bleach, on the other end of the pH scale, is so alkaline that it’s deadly. Even so, bleach only registers an 11-13 on the pH scale. That gives you a sense of the intensity of the juices in a vulture’s gut.
Why? What is the evolutionary advantage of having such a low pH environment in the gut? Turns out that this potent acid is able to break down and neutralize almost all bacterial pathogens, enabling vultures to eat diseased carcasses without succumbing to the pathogens.
And when vultures consume and neutralize pathogens, not only does it permit vultures to eat pretty much anything but it also enables vultures to cleanse the environment of disease vectors. This doesn’t mean that vultures completely eliminate disease-causing pathogens, but a healthy population of vultures is able to reduce the pathogen burden in an ecosystem.
We at Finca Luna Nueva are delighted to host communities of turkey, black, and king vultures. They are honored citizens of our regenerative farm and the primary rainforest in which we are nestled, and our guests can see them at the vulture blind we’ve created near the entrance to the Cabalonga Trail. You may not have considered them a tourist attraction, but take another look. Knowing that vultures play a key role in our environmental immune system might elevate them on your agrotourism checklist.
For more information about vultures and their “gizzard gravy,” check out