Africa’s first white-headed vulture born in captivity in KZN

2008-11-23 00:00

The first white-headed vulture in Africa to be bred in captivity hatched at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary in Umlaas Road about 17 days ago.

The sanctuary’s chief executive officer, Shannon Hoffman, said that when one of the white-headed vultures on display at the sanctuary’s “Vulture Hide” exhibit laid an egg, staff waited with bated breath for the incubation period to be over and for the egg to hatch. She said there was huge excitement when they heard the baby bird cheeping.

“With their dark bodies, white furry heads and pink beaks, the white-headed vultures could be considered the prettiest of the vultures — if a vulture can be considered pretty, of course,” said Hoffman.

In the wild, the birds nest in large trees and the last breeding sites in KZN are all found within protected areas.

“As vultures are prone to decreased breeding success due to nest disturbances, all cleaning work in the white-headed vulture enclosure ceased as the big day approached,” said Hoffman.

Vultures are known to be very good parents, said Hoffman, and the mother, Claudia (as in Claudia Schiffer), has proved to be no exception.

“She braved temperature extremes and massive storm winds, and during the incubation period she lay so low on the nest that one hardly knew she was there.

“Claudia now leaves the nest platform twice a day to fly down and quickly swallow the meat provided at feeding times. This meal she then regurgitates to her baby back at the nest platform.

“We care for seven white-headed vultures for the Natal Zoological Gardens. We need to learn to breed these rare birds now, as their numbers are steadily decreasing in the wild.

“There are numerous recorded cases where endangered species have been brought back from extinction through captive-breeding projects; the Mauritian kestrel, peregrine falcon in United States and the Californian condor are some raptor examples,” said Hoffman.

Factors that threaten tree nesting vultures in southern Africa include a lack of ecological understanding, habitat transformation (due to human development or even elephants knocking down their large nesting trees) and their use in the field of traditional medicine.

“In the traditional health industry, vultures are believed to provide clairvoyant powers and increased business prowess and intelligence.

“The demand for vulture products is driven primarily by gambling and lotto practices and for school children at exam time,” she said.

According to the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife vulture conservation strategy document, the white-headed vulture population in Zululand is so small that they will disappear from the region in the next five to 10 years if things continue as they are.

“For anyone who would like to visit the sanctuary to see the baby vulture, the December holidays would be a good time to do so,” said Hoffman.

“By then, the young bird will be big enough to sit up and Claudia and her protective mate, who constantly stands guard, will hopefully allow us to see their precious charge.”

The African Bird of Prey Sanctuary is located on the Lion Park Road, four kilometres off the N3.

For further information, contact Shannon Hoffman at 031 785 2981.

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