Saving our rare vultures

Aproud member of the Ugly 5 – along with the warthog, hyena, wildebeest and marabou stork – the lappet-faced vulture is as distinctive as it is rare. In fact, of the six vulture species that have patrolled these skies for aeons, two are now extinct (Egyptian and Cape), two are endangered (white-headed and white-backed) and the remaining two (hooded and lappet-faced) are on the vulnerable list.

In Namibia, you'll find the white-backed vulture in the northeast while the lappet-faced occupies the southern region. This is where you'll find volunteers from Vultures Namibia doing their thing to protect this important bird, as they have been doing since 1991. Originally starting out in the Namib Naukluft National Park they have expanded their reach into NamibRand Nature Reserve and surrounding commercial farms.

So how has the lappet-faced vulture ended up on the vulnerable list? What does the group ‘Vultures Namibia’ do? How is Namibia Tours and Safaris helping to get it off that list?

The sole cause of the lappet-faced vulture's declining numbers is, of course, us humans. Unchecked habitat loss, declining food sources and poisoning are pushing this highly specialised bird into obscurity. In 2013, for example, 600 lappet-faced vultures died from a single poisoning incident.

Commercial and small-scale subsistence farmers poison small predators, like gennets, jackals and karakals, to protect their livestock. Alas for our olfactorily-challenged friend, the poisoned carcass is just another fine feast. And these guys aren't exactly rabbits: vultures pair for life and, at one chick a year for three or four years only, they're not going to reverse their declining numbers any time soon.

Here is where Vultures Namibia lends a helping hand (or eye). It starts with air surveys to locate nests, then heading out into the field they find the nests spotted. Since vultures have no sense of smell (lucky for them, considering their diets) this makes it possible for them to be handled while most other bird species cannot be handled in the same way.

If the nests are inhabited, the fledglings of approximately 40 to 60 days old are ringed, tagged and blood samples are collected to determine the sex of the birds. Later at around 100 days old, certain nests are revisited to apply GPS trackers, which then download data ever hour so that the movements of the birds can be tracked.

Knowing how and where they move, allows them to be protected. Injured birds are rehabilitated in all seasons and along with data from neighbouring countries, they are able to ensure the success of the species.

NTS has adopted five vultures, namely Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and Oscar, supporting the initiative by sponsoring GPS trackers. Allowing more birds to be monitored allows the volunteers to be more involved.

More involvement means greater change and that's music to our ears and a symphony for Vultures Namibia. To find out more about Vultures Namibia or to get involved, visit them at www.vultures-namibia.com

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