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Kruger National Park, South Africa

Vultures are seen as the scoundrels of the animal kingdom. They’re often portrayed as bored, lazy, ugly, comical creatures, who sit around in dead trees waiting for some other animal’s fatal misfortune. To add insult to injury, they’ve even made the list of being among Africa’s “Ugly Five”.

But there is another side to these incredible birds. For a start, like their colleague, the Hyena – who is also a member of the ugly five, they are a lot bigger and physically formidable than the layperson imagines them when one views them on the television from the comfort of the couch. I’d sooner pick a fight with that cousin of the chimpanzee – the 11pm club-drunkard, and his band of knuckle dragging bruisers – than either a vulture or a hyena! At least there’d be more chance of reasoning with a vulture like a gentleman.

But perhaps even more impressive than their power, is their astounding grace in flight. Under the right conditions, vultures can stay aloft practically all day, born on a massive wingspan.

Seeing, first-hand, a vulture transform from an ominous silhouette, perched upon a high branch, into a soaring wonder of the sky is a spectacular sight, and no small privilege.

Reaching skyward. A vulture launches itself against the backdrop of the rising sun. Kruger National Park, South Africa.