A local author from Buford is hoping her book about a baby vulture will help create awareness about the endangered species and the destruction of its habitats.

The book, titled “Mort,” is Morgan Swank’s first book. She said she’s a television writer, and “Mort” was actually first pitched as a “much darker children’s TV show.”

“But all the network developers told me it would be a better book first,” she said. “I decided they were right, and it also gave me a chance to give back to the community with a book over a TV show first.”

Swank is donating 10 percent of the proceeds to the Vulture Conservation Foundation, as well as programs that connect children to endangered species and help them understand how people have been destroying their habitats.

“I’m trying to raise awareness as a local author in my home state, but also really do some good and make some money for these organizations and save their habitats,” Swank said.

The book was officially released Jan. 17. Swank said it’s the “Ugly Duckling” story, but with an actual ugly duckling.

“To me, vultures are kind of the perfect character,” she said. “... They are magnificent animals valuable to the ecosystem, but most people find them horrifying. I wonder what they would think of themselves if they could talk. Would they consider themselves birds or something scary and part of the outsider ring of animals?

“Also, the fact that they just sit around and wait for death is fascinating,” Swank said. “Imagine a baby vulture trying to make friends with other birds. It’s a great concept for a self-acceptance story of friendship.”

Most people, Swank said, don’t know turkey vultures in the U.S. are already a protected species. In different parts of the world, including the U.S. where black vultures and turkey vultures live, vultures’ habitats are being destroyed due to deforestation and forest fires, she said.

“So, if you read ‘Mort’ you’ll notice I chose to make him an African vulture,” Swank said. “This was purposeful. African vultures have lost 90% of their white-backed vulture population in the last few years due to poaching and human development.”

Of course, Africa is not the only place this is a problem, she said. According to Swank, India only has about 100,000 vultures left due to humans killing them.

“We need vultures in the world,” Swank said. “They eliminate up to 70% of carrion, and, therefore, help us keep our home free from spreading diseases. They’re gross, ugly birds but they keep our planet from being a Petri dish. We’re the only predator to them at this point.”

“Mort” is available online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. By August, Swank hopes to also have it in elementary school libraries in Hall, White and Gwinnett counties, as well as several local bookstores.

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