This year marks the first ever International Vulture Awareness Day to be held on the 5th of September 2009. Vulture numbers are decreasing dramatically all over the world, and it is not only specific to one or two species, rather it is across the board. This event has been arranged and co-ordinated by EWT's Birds of Prey Working Group and The Hawk Conservancy Trust.

KwaZulu Natal is home to at least 5 species of vultures (Cape, White-Backed, Lappet-faced, Bearded and Palm-nut). Many a hike in the 'Berg has had a sense of awe endowed on it by the experience of a close encounter with a vulture. The Drakensberg is home to 3 of the 5 species (Cape, White-backed, and Bearded). For me the most special instances are with Bearded Vultures (aka Lammergeier - from the German description of Lamb Vulture, or Gypaetus barbatus).

Being restricted in their nesting habits (tall cliff faces), their range has been reduced to the Alps in Europe and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg. Although their range is diminished, they still travel up to 600km in a day. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, in an effort to understand the movements of these magnificent birds, has a tracking experiment which they are undertaking, which is apparently yielding some very interesting results (see this link for more info ). According to the EKZNW website, Bearded vultures nest in basalt cliffs in potholes at an average altitude of 2500m.

 sc-krueger---beardedvulture.pngWhy are they so intriguing as a species, you may ask? They are currently listed as "Endangered" in South Africa, while their international status is "Near Threatened". Not much is known about the South African subspecies (Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis), although there is a working group set up to produce management plans for the species. This said, they are magical birds, spending their days finding carcasses to collect bones from. Ninety percent of their diet consists of bone marrow, not meat as with other vultures. All vultures are recognised in the environment as the "cleaning up agents", cleaning up dead carcasses. Bearded vultures function in a similar way, collecting bones from carcasses and dropping them from a height to split them open and eat the marrow. In doing so, they splinter the bones up to make them more susceptible to decay, and ensuring that carcasses are returned back to the soil in a more efficient manner. They are, however, under threat. The main causes of these threats, as identified by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and EKZNW pertain to: 1) Lack of knowledge, 2) Limited food availability, 3) Lack of sufficient data to make management interventions, and 4) Human impacts, such as poisoning, collisions with power-lines and disturbance around nest sites.

 The EWT in collaboration with EKZNW and MDTP (Maloti-Drakensberg Transfontier Project) have formed a Bearded vulture Interest Group (BIG) to plan ways forward for slowing the rapid decline in numbers and to bolster the population. As one intervention, they have requested data input from interested parties who may come across a dead individual to collect specific information about it to send through to the BIG Champion. The information requested is as follows:

sc-krueger---beardedvulture.pngWhat did the Bearded Vulture die of? e.g. was it shot, poisoned, electrocuted etc.
Where did it die or where was it killed? (specific location)
Was it an adult or a juvenile? (juveniles have brown/black heads and adults have white and orange heads and necks)
When did it die or when was it killed? (year and month)

Please email this information to the Bearded Vulture Species Champion, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 033 239 1516. 

See this link for more on how to be involved in the International Vulture Awareness Day.

Happy hiking.

Photo credits: Sonja Krueger.

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domsmooth's Avatar
domsmooth replied to: #688 08 Oct 2009 12:49
@Fatshark and Intrepid: :blush: I have recently found out from Sonja Krueger (from whose vulture work in the Berg much of the article was used), that Whitebacks actually do NOT occur in the Berg. They are tree-top nesters, and as such don't get much opportunity to nest in the Berg. ie: The only 2 species in the Berg are Cape and Bearded. Sorry for misleading, and I will make sure that next time I EDIT EDIT EDIT!

Frog story will be better!
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #643 08 Sep 2009 08:12
@fatshark: I made the same assumption about the vultures. :unsure:

@Dom: look forward to those articles.
domsmooth's Avatar
domsmooth replied to: #642 08 Sep 2009 01:45
ps: keep an eye out for my new story on frogs in the Berg... it will be an eye opener on what frogs mean to the environment and how frogs can indicate the impact man is having on an environment!
domsmooth's Avatar
domsmooth replied to: #641 08 Sep 2009 01:42
The whitebacks are not common, but they are most certainly about! Well worth keeping an eye out for. I will try and post some images of what the differences are between the 3 vultures in the near future, although I think the updated website will more than likely beat me to that! It will be worth keeping an eye out for as well. The updated site will increase usability, and hopefully boost numbers. If you have mates who are not yet registered, I encourage you to get them to register as the number of users is growing daily! The more the merrier! Lets keep hiking in the mountains a thing for future generations to enjoy also! I for one will be taking my offspring to enjoy the chain ladder, hopefully this summer (the oldest is 8, the middle is 5 and the youngest yet to turn 3...)
fatshark's Avatar
fatshark replied to: #639 07 Sep 2009 12:03
yes, nice one.

Did not know that whitebacks are found in the Berg, always thought they were bushveld birds and assumed that the ones i saw in the Berg were all Capes. Will have to have a closer squizz at the "Capes" from now on.