An annual vulture tagging project was established with the aim of saving our critically endangered vultures of Zululand. There are five Savannah species of vulture found in Zululand, all of them listed as endangered or critically endangered.

It is projected that breeding pairs of Lappet Faced and White Headed Vultures will be facing extinction locally by 2020 if current trends continue – wildlifeACT.com

The objectives of the annual Zululand Vulture Tagging Project is the gathering of important biological data and to track vulture movements. This will help conservationists determine the causes of mortality, what the survival rate is and what factors influence population growth.

Estimated Vulture Breeding Pairs in KwaZulu-Natal

Vulture numbers released by Wildlife ACT for 2016 highlight the extent of the crises, with an estimated 70% of breeding pairs of Zululand vultures being wiped out since 2001. The figures are:

  • 1-3 White-Headed Vulture, critically endangered
  • 5-10 Lappet-Faced Vulture, endangered
  • 300 African White-Backed Vulture, critically endangered

Wildlife ACT together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Birds of Prey Working Group, joined forces to create the Annual Vulture Project aimed at saving our critically endangered vultures of Zululand.

critically endangered vultures
Img Source: Wildlife ACT

The vulture conservation goal is to capture vultures throughout Zululand, attaching GPS units, identification tags and rings. At the same time biological data including DNA samples are collected for further research.

 

The tags and rings will allow vulture movements to be tracked through feedback from public sightings. GPS units will give insights into flight paths, foraging areas and roosting spots. This will also help determine survival rates of youngsters, and provide trends to help conservation management.

Vultures throughout southern Africa are being targeted for medicinal purposes and meat. Poachers catch the vultures by poisoning animal carcasses such as a dead zebras or impalas – wildlifeACT.com

There are a number of superstitions surrounding vultures in many cultures in Africa. Some believe that they are the harbingers of death, or pose a threat to their healthy livestock. Community outreach therefore plays a big role in combating poaching. By involving volunteers, students, researchers and landowners helps raise awareness among local farmers and communities living close to protected areas.

An Integral Part of our Ecosystem

Vultures form an integral part of our ecosystem as they scavenge for food. By keeping the bush-veld clean of rotting carcasses, they play a big role in controlling disease outbreaks.

Some fascinating facts about vultures are:

  • There are 23 species of vulture, 16 in Africa
  • They can eat 20% of their own body weight in one sitting
  • Vultures have incredible vision, and are able to spot a small animal up to 6km away
  • They have bald heads and often bare necks so that when they feed on rotting carcasses, bacteria and other parasites can’t burrow into their feathers, causing infection; left over germs are baked off by the sun
  • Vultures mate for life

Saving our Critically Endangered Vultures

Donations are urgently needed to support this initiative and help towards saving our critically endangered vultures of Zululand.

GPS units attached to vultures cost in the region of R 7,000 each, and all conservation work is entirely on a volunteer basis. Please visit Project Vulture to see how else you can get involved.

Another way of helping is by reporting  any vulture sightings on the WildlifeACT Facebook page. Take a picture and post it on their page, the wing tags are designed to stand out clearly, making them easy to identify.

Any information can also be passed on to Andrew andreb@ewt.org.za or Chris chris@wildlifeact.com

Have you spotted any of these rare birds of prey in one of our parks? Perhaps you were involved in one of the vulture tagging projects. Please share your experiences with us, and help raise awareness as much as possible.

Cover Photo courtesy of Heidi Watson Wildlife Photography

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