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Female scientist tells chilling vulture stories, efforts to save critically endangered species

North Carolina Zoo's Curator of Conservation and Research Dr. Corinne Kendall travels between Africa and Asheboro frequently throughout the year to study vultures.

ASHEBORO, N.C. — From elephants banging her window, to monkeys breaking into her tent, Dr. Corinne Kendall has tons of stories doing research work to save wildlife.

"[My] first vulture bite was this very large aggressive vulture and I knew she was one of the aggressive ones because when the vulture regurgitated on me, she vomited two eyeballs from the wildebeest that she had just consumed," Kendall said. "That is like prime meat for a vulture. So, this bird had gotten in there early and gotten the eyes first."

Kendall said this first vulture bite was on her international research visit to Tanzania, a place she visits frequently throughout the year.

"I was in Zambia, a couple of weeks ago, and it was just amazing to hear all of those noises at night," Kendall said. "We sleep in tents so you're just kind of listening to hippos, lions and hyenas vocalizing all throughout the night." 

Kendall is the curator of conservation research at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. She oversees the zoo's international conservation projects, and some nights she calls a tent in Africa home.

"A lot of what we do is to help people and animals live in harmony and figure out ways to coexist," Kendall said. 

Kendall is an expert on the African vulture. She showcases one of the key tools used in her research work with the vultures.

"This is one of the transmitters that we actually put on to the vultures," Kendall said. "Part of what I do when I'm in the field is tag vultures, so this goes on a little backpack in between their wings and it has solar panels on it and it's really amazing. We get information on where the vultures are and what they are doing." 

Kendall said cows are being laced with toxic pesticides that can kill masses of vultures when they pursue them. So, her transmitters can help to gather information on where these vultures are and locate where the laced cows are to assist law enforcement with identifying who is lacing the cows.

Although most of Kendall's research work is done thousands of miles away, her passion started closer to North Carolina. 

"I went to camps at the Bronx Zoo growing up," Kendall said. "When I worked there later on, I remember one of the educators that had worked with me prior as a little kid and it was so amazing to get to teach alongside and learn from him as an educator, after having learned from him as a small child."  

A full-circle moment for Kendall. She also thanks her father for letting her be a curious child. 

"He was the kind of person that would, like, stop and look at scat,  when we were on a hike," Kendall said. "We'd stop and look at animals and wonder what they'd eaten and look for footprints, so I've always had that inclination towards the outdoors and towards wildlife." 

When Kendall was asked what encouraging words she had for young animal lovers, she said, "I would just encourage people to get experience because I think it would be difficult to know which piece of it you like the best. I think often the passion may be around animals themselves, but you have to think how the career is going to relate to that."