Researcher: Kerri Wolter
Through the irresponsible use of poisons, the Cape Vulture has become critically endangered in Namibia where only 12 known wild Cape Vultures survive in the country.
Discussions with vulture experts have indicated that the establishment of a detailed threat analysis study as well as a sound captive breeding programme, followed by the reintroduction of captive bred, parent raised offspring into Namibia is the only hope of keeping this species alive and preventing any cross-hybridisation between the Cape and the African White-backed Vultures – something that has already been recorded. In short, preventing a catastrophic extinction of all Cape Vultures in Namibia.
Human activities have had the largest impact on vultures throughout the world. The main threats that vultures are facing today include:
- Electrical powerline electrocution and collisions
- Habitat destruction
- Declining food availability
- Drowning in farm reservoirs
- Disturbance at colonies
- Illegal collection for traditional medicine
- Effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and lead poisoning
- Possibly climate change (the extent is being determined)
Powerline electrocutions and collisions together with inadvertent poisoning remain two of the greatest threats that vultures and other birds of prey face in southern Africa. Disturbance at nesting and roosting sites contributes to a loss of suitable nesting/roosting habitat for vultures. Human population expansion continues to claim large areas of wilderness, which will eventually be lost to vulture populations. Development in wilderness areas for eco-resorts is a cause of great concern. These areas are often branded as ‘eco-friendly’ but in actual fact can impact as much as some agricultural developments.
In Namibia, mismanagement of some farmland has led to severe bush encroachment over large areas, and recent research has indicated that this also has an adverse effect on vultures’ ability to find food.
Current Conservation Measures
Cape Vultures are legally protected throughout their range. Some breeding colonies lie within protected areas. Non-governmental organisations have successfully raised awareness among farming communities in South Africa of the plight of this species with many nestlings beings colour-ringed in southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.
In October 2005, 16 South African Cape Vultures were released in Namibia, although at least two have since perished with one being taken into care. Two of the released vultures were fitted with satellite tracking devices and flight patterns and breeding behaviour was recorded. By 2006, five of the released vultures had been fitted with satellite tracking devices.
In Namibia, many subsistence and commercial farmers have been educated about the benefits that vultures bring and thus the disadvantages of poisoning carcasses, in addition to a Vulture Education Centre and Vulture Education Programme for schools.
- The main aim of this project is to release all viable captive, parent raised Cape Vulture chicks into Namibia to help either stabilise the remaining 12 wild Cape Vultures left and/or to increase the remaining wild population of the species.
- Manage captive breeding pairs and provide stimuli to encourage breeding interest and behaviour.
- Allow parents to raise chicks through correct breeding enclosures and provision of suitable food with sufficient bone fragments for strong bone development.
- Before fledging, transport chicks to Namibia, to be housed in a temporary release enclosure amongst the wild vulture population at the established feeding site (vulture restaurant).
- Release the fledglings in a soft hacking environment, allowing the released vultures to scavenge in safety while providing adequate food to supplement their foraging diets.
- Fit all captive-bred chicks with tracking devices for monitoring purposes upon release to ensure their continued health and safety.
- Future double-clutching of eggs and raising of chicks without human imprinting.
- Move all breeding pairs into the newly built breeding enclosure by early October 2010.
- Supply suitable nesting material for nest construction by December through to June 2010.
- Supply suitable bone fragments for ongoing calcium supplementation throughout the year.
- Allow breeding behaviour during May – October (54-56 days incubation period and 5 months in total from chick to fledgling) – annually.
- Transport all parent-raised chicks to Namibia via the Bateleurs Organisation or Air Namibia before fledging around September/October each year.
Fit all chicks/fledglings with tracking devices for monitoring purposes – October each year.
- Fledglings to be kept at REST for approximately 2 months in a flight enclosure alongside the vulture restaurant and then allowing the birds to fledge soon after directly from the enclosure – December each year.
- Ongoing monitoring of all released birds for the entire lifespan of the tracking device. Results to be monitored and project success analysed.
The Wilderness Wildlife Trust has contributed two satellite transponders for this project. This is for the monitoring of all the released birds for the entire lifespan of the tracking device.
The next step is to hire a full time student in Namibia who can undertake a detailed threat analysis and who will look after the fledglings once they have been sent them through to Namibia