Cape Vultures Find Sanctuary in the Karoo
The Karoo Vulture Safe Zone was created by the Endangered Wildlife Trust to bring Cape Vultures back to their historical ranges in the Great Karoo. Sneeuberg is a proud partner in this project and is committed to making our corner of the Karoo a safe haven for these magnificent birds.
Imagine our delight when we spotted a Cape vulture perched on a trough in the veld at Sneeuberg! It’s a great sign that the Karoo Vulture Safe Zone project is working. We recently met with Danielle du Toit of the Endangered Wildlife Trust to see how we can be part of this important conservation project.
Sneeuberg management with Danielle du Toit of the Endangered Wildlife Trust during our meeting at Gordonville Manor.
Why We Need Vultures
When you think about the beauty and balance of nature, scavengers may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But vultures, an ecologically vital group of birds, are in crisis. Vultures are regarded as the most threatened group of terrestrial migratory birds on the planet, and there are only 2 900 breeding pairs left in SA.
Vultures exclusively feed on dead animal carcasses, and their digestive system has evolved into a natural wonder itself. By rapidly removing pathogens and toxins from the environment, nature’s lightning-fast clean-up crew prevents harmful diseases and bacteria, such as anthrax, botulism and rabies, from spreading to other wildlife and even humans.
Easy access to safe water sources means the Cape Vulture doesn’t have to venture far in search of a sip.
The Biggest Threats to Vultures
Danielle from EWT, who excitedly told us of a recent sighting of 22 Cape vultures outside Middelburg, explained how re-introducing the Cape Vulture to the Karoo landscape starts with mitigating the threats that drove them out in the first place. The main threats are:
- Poisoning, when farmers illegally lace carcasses with chemicals to kill predators
- Lead poisoning, when vultures scavenge on the discarded entrails of animals shot by hunters using lead bullets
- Colliding with power lines, coming into contact with a live wire, or perching on a conductive pylon
- Habitat loss as land is converted for housing, industry and agriculture
- Drowning when they enter small reservoirs to drink or bathe and, if it is not full, are unable to climb up the steep sides
- Being caught for use in traditional medicine
- Poaching as trophies or for the illegal feather trade
A majestic Cape vulture in flight. Their wingspan can reach up to 2.6m. Captured by Gareth Tate
Returning Cape Vultures to the Karoo
Over 400 Karoo farmers and landowners have partnered with the Endangered Wildlife Trust, SANPARKs and a host of other conservation organisations to create a special safe zone that spans 23 000 km² in the Karoo. It includes four wildlife-protected areas — the Karoo, Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks and the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment.
The project team conducts assessments of the farms and reserves and actively works with owners to mitigate the threats so that they can obtain coveted Vulture Safe Zone status. They also host awareness days to inform hunters and game farm owners of the dangers of lead bullets, educate farmers about how poisoning predators directly threaten vultures and work with Eskom and municipalities to ensure all powerline infrastructure is safe.
Ensuring Sneeuberg is a safe haven for these majestic birds is an ongoing project. While we are already a recognised committed area for this project, we are taking steps to become part of the registered Safe zone. In line with the EWT’s recommendations:
- Long-term, we are planning to go off-grid, completely removing the need for power lines that pose a threat to vultures. In the meantime, flapper disks on power lines are being installed to make them more visible to birds
- We are working towards solutions to ensure vultures can easily climb out of our concrete reservoirs and dams if they fall in
- In the case of an emergency culling, lead-free ammunition will be used to avoid the possibility of vulture poisoning
The untouched Karoo landscape at Sneeuberg, with its koppies, crevices and plains, is an ideal habitat for Cape vultures.
At Sneeuberg Nature Reserve, we are committed to conscious travel, which includes creating the optimal habitat for the safe return of these majestic birds. Just as our sky is pristine and clear, we are proud to be working towards ensuring our vast open land is a haven for wildlife where they can live their lives as nature intended.
Be sure to stay a night or two the next time you visit the Karoo. Perhaps you’ll even spot a Cape vulture!