To climb in a Camel Thorn tree and fetch a vulture chick from the nest, place it in a bucket and let it down to the ground, may be a tough experience. For the experienced tree climbers of Puy Du Fou in France and the Hawk Conservancy Trust of England this is a task done in five (5) minutes to reduce the disturbance at the nest to the minimum. If one looks at the scratches and bruises on their bodies, you realise the risks involved.
Early in October the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and other role players marked vulture chicks at Mokala National Park and the neighbouring farms. This is part of the Savannah Vulture Project which is a registered project with SANParks where vultures are being monitored in different National Parks. The long term studies aim to determine breeding patterns, populations and movements of these populations.
During a visit to the breeding colony, Ronelle Visagie, the EWT’s Field officer monitored the breeding pairs and active nests. These included about 80 known nests from previous breeding seasons and inactive nests were excluded. During the marking week we ringed 51 chicks, some of which were still very small and one nest had an egg.
Every year breeding results change, we have seen that breeding success is not a guarantee that vulture numbers will increase. There are many threats faced by vultures including poison, power lines, harvesting for muthi and natural predators like baboons, monkeys and Pied Crows. The status of the White-backed Vultures was up listed in the Red Data Book for Birds from vulnerable to Endangered in 2012 and as at end of October this species is now Critically Endangered.
An interesting observation during the past two years is that some vultures start breeding at a younger age, though it is still too early to prove this statistically. The reason for this may be that there are vultures without breeding mates due to one of the pair dying. What is tragic is that the young birds are inexperienced and their breeding attempt may be unsuccessful.
Juvenile vultures are dependent on their parents for a period of five to six months and only about 30% of the chicks survive the first year. Vultures play a vital role to prevent the spread of disease to humans and animals and thus important that people are aware of their role in the ecology. In India the decrease in vultures has led to an increase in diseases like rabies. What is critical to note is that the decrease in vulture numbers in Africa may have the same effect.
Vultures are marked with tags with unique numbers to monitor their movements, age and distances that they fly. Some of the birds that were marked at Mokala were seen in Botswana and northern Namibia. You can help by sending your sightings of marked birds to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you see a marked bird, record the date, place, GPS coordinates if possible, tag number and any other data that may seem relevant to the sighting, e.g. number of vultures in the group and other species.
Co-ordinator: Platberg Karoo Project