Cape vulture decline is reason to be concerned

Vultures play an important role in the ecosystem, and if not managed properly, they may face extinction.

The Cape vulture colony situated in the Marakele National Park is showing a significant decrease in the number of active breeding pairs. With only 5% of these birds surviving from egg to adulthood, questions are being asked about the future of the population.

In just 30 years the colony, one of the world’s largest, has declined. What started with nearly 800 breeding pairs in 1984, dropped to just over 600 during the 2013 breeding season, according to statistics provided by VulPro.
There are currently less than 15 active breeding sites of this vulnerable species in South Africa.

“In an ideal world the numbers should have gone up or at least stabilised, but given the threats, it is difficult to keep any colony stable,” says Kerri Wolter, founder of VulPro, an organisation involved in, among others, monitoring vulture populations in South Africa. Three visits conducted annually, establish the number of breeding pairs, chicks in the nests and fledglings. Each sighting is verified by two observers to ensure accuracy.

At present poisoning, collisions and electrocution by power lines and even poaching for traditional medicine, have put pressure on the population. “I would still like to say the colony is healthy but it is without a doubt declining and will continue to do so unless these threats are halted and mitigated.”

With these birds occurring only in southern Africa and producing a single egg at a time, the smallest incidents count. Last year alone, two cases of Cape vulture poisoning surfaced, says André Botha, manager of the Birds of Prey Programme at the Endangered Wildlife Trust. In the Swartberg region in KwaZulu-Natal, 55 vultures died while a poisoning incident in the Eastern Cape resulted in 47 birds being killed.

A lot of work still needs to be done, but the message is slowly spreading. “We receive support from the farmers in the area,” says Mphadeni Nthangeni, conservation manager at Marakele National Park. He explains that a problem with young fledglings is exhaustion when learning to fly. “We had about 10 cases last year of locals bringing young birds to us, tired and unable to return to the nest.

Wolter says it is important for everybody to do their bit for the conservation of the species. Power lines can be adapted to prevent collisions. A better understanding, assistance and positive change should be implemented to stabilise this colony.
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René de Klerk

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