Many people only see turkey vultures as nasty pests; lowly, ugly scavengers undeserving of our respect. But these bald-headed badasses may have saved thousands of people over the years because of their amazing guts.
Turkey vultures have such strong stomach acid that they can digest bacteria and viruses that would kill other animals, such as E. Coli, anthrax, and botulism. You may have heard me spout this fact before, but I want to further express how critical this ability is. A single crystal the size of a grain of sand of the botulism toxin, for instance, is potent enough to kill 9,600 people. When vultures consume carcasses with this toxin in it, they are not only immune to its effects but they remove it from the ecosystem. This means that when that turkey vulture dies and another scavenger eats it, the scavenger will not be subject to the toxin and will therefore not die!
Abilities like this put vultures in an undeniably important position when it comes to maintaining the health of an ecosystem (and of people!). If you still do not believe we need vultures, look to India as an example. The Indian and Indian white-rumped vulture populations have declines by 97% in the last decade because of a poisonous anti-inflammatory drug used on Indian cattle.
Without these vultures to consume the carcasses of dead animals, the population of stray dogs has skyrocketed. More stray dogs means more rabies, and therefore more rabies victims. Because of the decline of Indian vultures, which rabies has no effect on, India has become the number one country for rabies related deaths. 20,000 people per year die from rabies in India- that is more than 1/3 of the worldwide death toll!
If the connotation associated with turkey vultures does not change soon, and if use of lead shot is not banned (lead poisoning in the number one cause of turkey vulture deaths), a similar process may occur with something like botulism here in America.