It might make some people a little squeamish, but the sight of vultures feasting on nearby roadkill is actually great for the environment, especially in warm climates. Vultures prevent the spread of disease, but they don't get sick themselves because they have extremely acidic stomachs (near zero pH). Since vulture stomach acid is so corrosive, it allows them to safely eat carcasses infected with botulinum toxin, hog cholera and even anthrax bacteria -- all deadly pathogens that would be lethal to other scavengers.
These less-than-attractive recyclers either see carcasses from the air (Old World vultures) or smell their next meal from up to a mile away (New World vultures). Vultures rarely attack healthy animals, but they may finish off a wounded or sick animal. A flock of vultures will then quickly dispose of the remains, digesting dangerous microbes before they can produce spores that could infect humans and other creatures.
More about anthrax and vulture culture:
- Anthrax is a disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. It occurs most commonly in wild and domestic mammals, including cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelope and other herbivores.
- Vultures prefer recently-killed animals. They will happily feast on carrion that is two or three days old, but once it really starts to rot, they lose interest.
- New World vultures urinate down their legs -- on purpose. The uric acid kills bacteria they pick up from walking through carcasses. It also acts as an evaporative cooling method.