North American Region, 1996

531 "K" STREET
EUREKA, CA 95501


Common name: KING VULTURE
Scientific name: Sarcorhamphus papa
Historic name: Sarcorhamphus papa

Although this species is not currently listed as endangered or threatened, wild populations are on the decline. Primary causes for its demise are habitat destruction and poaching. As its preferred habitat is rain forest, it is likely that future populations will be substantially diminished in association with the projected continuing removal of large tracts of rain forest.

Status of wild populations:
USFW = not listed
CITES= not listed

Primary habitat is rain forest, additionally hunts in savannahs and coastal marshes.

Mexico (Sinaloa to Chiapas; Veracruz to Quintana Roo; most likely to be seen below the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) north to Argentina. Occurs from sea level to 3000 feet. Formerly occurred in Honduras.

Description of ecology of wild population:
King vultures are unique among related species in social structure as well as habitat. They are most often observed singly or in pairs as opposed to the colonial behavior of other cathartids. King vultures are diurnal carnivorous scavengers.

Husbandry notes:
 King vultures do not tolerate cold winter weather well. Numerous individuals kept in exposed conditions have been reported to have suffered frostbitten toes and feet, with some subsequently losing extremities or requiring euthanasia.

 King vultures are long-lived, have low fecundity, and have comparatively simple husbandry needs. Although typical seasonal production would consist of a single egg, some pairs have produced up to three chicks in a season when the hatchlings are lost or taken relatively early. King vultures are sensitive when nesting and have a tendency to kill hatchlings. Hand-raised individuals are accordingly not uncommon.

 King vultures typically tend to be very aggressive when defending their nest site. Hand-raised birds, with little fear of humans, may pose even more danger.

 Young king vultures have been known to chase down and kill mourning doves that squeezed through the wire of their enclosure. Most often, the doves were not consumed.

 Patagial tags or coded internal units read with a scanner are the preferred methods of individual identification. Use of leg bands is discouraged due to the vultures' habit of defecating on its legs. Subsequent build-up between the leg and ring can cause constriction.

 Although there can be slight differences in size between male and female king vultures, surgical or other methods of sexing are usually necessary. An excess of "baby fat" prevents laparotomies from being successful in kings less than 6 months of age, and those under a year are often still questionable due to lack of gonadal development.


The first edition of the king vulture studbook was the 1989 edition published in 1990 in the ODUM format. The subsequent 1992 studbook was converted to SPARKS format in 1993. The 1996 studbook is being produced using the SPARKS program, v1.4.

This is a North American Regional studbook: an inventory of all known, living and dead, king vultures (Sarcorhamphus papa) held in captivity in the United States, Canada and Mexico. It also includes Belize and Honduras. Locations are listed by the ISIS/SPARKS mnemonic system.

There are two main listing sections:
 by assigned studbook number, ascending
 by last known institution or locale, alphabetical by state

As the earliest sufficiently detailed record for an individual specimen dates to 1900, this Studbook involves recorded specimens from that time. At least one facility has reported maintaining a number of specimens prior to that time, but are unable to provide estimated dates or transactions. As an increasing number of facilities seem to be involved with recreating their institutional historical records, the historical scope of the studbook is anticipated to change dependent upon the level of success of those efforts.


STUDBOOK NUMBER: Each individual specimen is assigned a unique number. Each studbook number is intended to serve as a permanent identification for a specimen throughout its lifespan. Regardless of intentions, it on occasion it may be discovered that different numbers are assigned for the different periods of existence for the same specimen when substantiating information is received. Every effort is made to minimize the occurrence of this situation, but this edition does involve a few changes to these permanent numbers, deleting duplicate assignments for individual specimens. It is important to recognize here that all studbook numbers in this edition which begin with the letter "T" are an exception to the above information. These numbers are temporarily assigned to specimens not previously recorded here, and will be changed in the next edition to an entirely numerical assignment which does not necessarily relate to the temporarily assigned number.

M Male
F Female
U Undetermined

Date of hatch is recorded by day, month and year when known. Unknown dates are identified by an ??? entry; estimated dates are indicated by the ~ symbol preceding a given day, month or year. Some dates may indicate the range of approximation through the use of a +/- indication and along with the identification of a span of time, usually years. Estimations of dates listed in other fields in this studbook use this same method of description.

Studbook numbers of parents are included when known. When a vulture is considered to have been wildcaught, its sire and dam are listed as WILD. If no estimations of the origin of a particular vulture have been made, sire and dam are both listed as UNK (unknown).

Identifies the locale of associated with a historical event. WILD is used when a king vulture was born and captured in the wild. UNKNOWN is used when an event has occurred that cannot be appropriately assigned to a specific locale. These events include known transfers which did not identify recipient, as well as such events as an escape or theft) Otherwise the mnemonics for known locations are used.

The date is recorded as day, month and year when a listed event occurs. The alternate methods of describing less specific dates as used for HATCH DATE are used here.

Local identification numbers of each location are recorded when provided. In cases where such numbers were not assigned or are unknown, UNK is used.

Identifies a reported activity affecting a change in a specimen's existence, location or ownership, including: CAPTURE or HATCH, LOAN or OWNERSHIP to a location, physical TRANSFER to a location, and RELEASE or DEATH.
It is important to recognize here that events described as LOANS or OWNERSHIP are not to be considered as documentation regarding any issues of actual ownership. These events are recorded in this edition only for the purpose of providing information reported by one or more locations that may have been used to assist in tracking individual specimens according to the reported history of one or more locations. This studbook is only concerned with recording a specimen's location as accurately as possible using as much reported information as possible.

This data field is not included in the printed publication of this edition but is maintained in the electronic SPARKS database. The field denotes whether a specimen is WILD BORN or CAPTIVE BORN. This information is easily identified in the printed format by considering the sire and dam fields as described above.

This data field is not included in the printed publication of this edition but is maintained in the electronic SPARKS database. Records the date of death. This information is available in the printed studbook as the last event for a deceased specimen. Additional comments regarding the recording of death events are provided in the studbook conventions section below.

This data field is not included in the printed publication of this edition but is maintained in the electronic SPARKS database. When known, type of rearing is denoted as PARENT, or HAND. The primary use of this field for regarding this edition has been in identifying specimens.

This field denotes an institution's house name for a specimen. By program default, only a single house name is listed, although records indicate that different house names have been given to a single specimens maintained at multiple facilities.

Some conventions for data application are described in the individual fields above. Although data provided by the involved institutions are used in most circumstances, some instances of minor dicrepencies provided in reported information occurs, particularily regarding events which happened several decades in the past.

In such cases which have not been resolved, dates and events have been recorded in this edition based upon:
 consistency with confirmed events (e.g. location of breeding pair corresponding to the time and location of successful propagation)
 default use of reasonable information reported by the institution actually holding the specimen at the time of event
 previous studbook resolutions and assumptions

When dates for events have not been provided but are required in order to record a logical event (such as a wild hatch or capture), dates have arbitrarily been assigned. In cases where wild hatch dates have been estimated, most capture dates have been assigned as 1 January or 15 July of the subsequent six month period. In exception, in cases where captures are the only recorded event prior to a known acquisition date, the capture date is assigned as 1 January or 15 July of the six month period preceeding acquisition. Although this convention may indicate an inordinate amount of time between wild hatch and capture, it minimizes the presumption of undocumented time in captivity. An additional related convention used here is the assignment of wild hatch and capture dates to the one year period preceeding a dated event not preceeded by any other event when no estimations for originating events have been provided. As many of the studbook vultures have unknown or rough accounts regarding their origination, these conventions give the studbook population minimal age and longevity approximations. Additionally, it is noteworthy that in previous editions, vultures that have been transferred out of the region (e.g. to Europe or Asia) were classified as "dead" as an accepted convention for identifying their removal from the regional population. This edition is in the process of reclassifying any of those living animals as "lost to followup."

Printed copies of this studbook are being distributed as previously to all involved institututions and individuals. It is intended that this edition will also be included in the next ISIS Studbook Library CD-ROM. The studbook will also be available as electronic data in either SPARKS or straight ASCII format. Requests for electronic copies should be made to the studbook keeper. Delivery can occur in a variety of ways, including as an attached file to e-mail. Floppy disks sent by way of standard postal services would be in DOS format on either size disk.

Email requests should be sent to

King Vulture Studbook Data
©1996, 1997 AZA North American Regional Studbook Keeper
Last modified by Jack Bellinger at 10:14 PM on 3/25/97