Hershey has timetable for vulture removal next steps, but “vultures are awesome”

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DERRY TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Finally, from the perspective of neighbors who have waited a few years for this, Derry Township administrators will meet Thursday, Oct. 21, with United States Department of Agriculture staff to discuss a “cooperative services agreement” to convince the black vultures to go elsewhere, township administrator Chris Christman confirmed Friday.

Representatives of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, which owns ZooAmerica — which, in turn, abuts the neighborhood the vultures call home — will be there, too. The zoo is already working with USDA, although, no one is sure what attracted the vultures or whether their presence has anything to do with the zoo.

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Black vultures are a protected species; people aren’t allowed to harm them.

Thursday’s meeting is internal, but the administrators will update township supervisors and neighbors at a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the township’s municipal building.

But in addition to questions about why the vultures are there and how to convince them to move elsewhere, there’s another question: Should neighbors want them to move elsewhere?

Barron von Vulture would surely say “no” if he could talk. But more on him in a moment.

Tracie Young, the wildlife rehabilitator at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Boro, Lancaster County, knows she’s in the minority when she begins a conversation with “Vultures are awesome!” — indeed, that’s how she began a conversation Friday — but she would probably pay a premium to live in a neighborhood blessed (from her perspective, anyway) with vultures. Why?

“They are our clean-up crew, and they save us from a lot of bacteria and germs and other potential problems,” Young said.

She said declining vulture populations in other parts of the world have led to bigger problems, like disease and increasing populations of feral wolves. In India, “They are literally trying to make vulture farms to bring the vultures back.”

“I can’t imagine not having them,” Young said. “Of the amount of bacteria and illness.”

“People feel that vultures are gross and dirty and disgusting,” she added. “And they’re actually cleaner than we are,” even though — or perhaps because — they can eat meat so rotten that it would kill humans.

Another benefit to having vultures around, according to Young: You know about the canary in a coal mine? Well, vultures can serve a similar purpose, albeit without suffering the same fate as the canary when there’s bad news.

Young said vultures have been known to inexplicably descend on an area, only for humans to subsequently discover a natural gas leak. The vultures smell what to them seems like delicious rotten eggs before the gas smell is strong enough for humans to detect.

“Rather than be mad that they’re there, kind of ask yourself why they’re there,” Young said. “Is there something they’re smelling, whether it be dangerous or not, that’s having them roost there?”

“They might be trying to tell us something,” she added, which brings us back to Barron von Vulture.

That’s the name of the vulture who has lived at Raven Ridge for the past three years, ever since someone brought him in after a car struck him. One of his wings never healed enough to make him eligible for release into the wild.

Instead, he’s the star of the shelter, a wildlife ambassador with school children and such — and Young’s special buddy.

“People have their mindset of what a vulture is from cartoons or whatever,” Young said. “But when they meet Barron von Vulture, their whole tune changes.”

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