Nature’s refuse collectors on our doorstep
Vultures are usually associated with our wild open spaces and national parks, where they squabble over the rotting remains of a lion or leopard kill. However, the hinterland of our piece of paradise on the South Coast, is a haven for the largest of the African vultures, the Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres.
Nine species of vulture are to be found in Southern Africa, all of which are under immense pressure for survival.
Poisoning is a major problem, with large numbers of vultures feeding on carcasses that have been baited by farmers to control jackal, baboon or other predators. They quickly succumb to the ingested toxins. Veterinary drugs, such as Diclofenac, used to treat livestock, are also highly toxic to vultures. Indian vulture populations declined by 99 per cent as a consequence of Diclofenac. Another very worrying turn of events is that rhino poachers are now lacing their kills with poison to prevent the vultures alerting game rangers to any recent activity.
Electrocution as a result of collisions with power lines also poses a huge threat to vultures. Of five juvenile birds fitted with satellite transmitters at Oribi in 2013, three were dead within eighteen months due to electrocution. Another juvenile from this season only survived one month, away from the colony, before being discovered under a pylon. Preventative measures being implemented by Eskom, will hopefully help to reduce these frightening statistics.
The indigenous medicine trade is another contributing factor. Vulture parts can be found regularly in muti markets, where their use is believed to give the recipient prophetic powers.
A new threat looming on the horizon is the construction of wind farms. Collisions with these massive structures will not only affect vultures, but a multitude of bird and bat species.
Vultures play a vital role in ridding the environment of decaying carcasses. The loss of these magnificent birds (-) from African skies, could have devastating consequences. What happened in India makes chilling reading.
Following the drastic decline in vultures there, the drinking water soon became contaminated by rotting animals in village fields. Rats and wild dogs increased in numbers, becoming carriers for diseases such as rabies, anthrax and the plague, which are directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of human deaths. 30,000 people die from rabies alone each year, of which 70 per cent are children under 15 years old.
The estimated cost to India, since the vulture crises, is a staggering 34 billion US Dollars (412 billion Rands).
Thankfully, due to the passion and dedication of a local farmer, our Oribi population of Cape vultures is in very safe hands.
In the year 2000, he noticed about 20 birds roosting on cliffs on his farm. Following advice from KZN Wildlife, he started a ‘vulture restaurant’ to provide safe carcasses for the vultures to feed on. Since then, the colony has swelled to well over 120 birds, with about 40 breeding pairs. On average, 37 chicks are now hatching each year. With an estimated global population (endemic to Southern Africa) of just 8,000 individuals, this is now a very significant Cape vulture colony.
A bird hide, overlooking the ‘vulture restaurant’, has recently been erected by BirdLife Trogons Bird Club, the local birdwatching association. This provides excellent opportunities for visitors to view and photograph the vultures as they do what they do best. The hide is not open to the general public owing to the sensitive nature of the site and because it is on private property. Visitors wishing to use the hide, can book exclusive daily hire through the Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide website (http://vulturehide.blogspot.com/) or by telephoning the project coordinator, Andy Ruffle, on 072 893 3794. Two hour vulture viewing visits are also available. Please see the website for rates and booking details.
The Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide is a non-profit conservation project of BirdLife Trogons Bird Club in collaboration with the landowner.
Who to contact...
Tel: 072 893 3794
Best time to visit...
The Hide is closed13th April-31st May 2015 (incl) for 2 hour vulture viewing visits due to nesting activity
What will it cost...
R100 per person for a 2 hour viewing (based on a minimum booking of 3 people, please visit the website for more info)
The viewing hide is not open to the public without a booking. Please make sure you book your spot in advance to avoid disappointment