Humans halve Vultures’ numbers

2015-02-11 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Satellite trackers on the backs of bearded vultures have confirmed researchers’ fears that this species is fast disappearing.

Extensive fieldwork was done by KZN Wildlife and the University of Cape Town’s Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Africa Ornithology from 2007 to 2014 in the Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal — including large parts of the Drakensberg.

The ornithologists lured 21 vultures with meat and attached the 70 gram, solar-powered ­trackers to their backs. The trackers sent an hourly signal from 5 am to 8 pm to enable the researchers to monitor the birds’ flights and location. Dr Sonja Krueger of KZN Wildlife said 10 of the vultures were poisoned and one was ­electrocuted on an overhead cable. The remaining 10 vultures are still being tracked. The harnesses tying the trackers to the birds’ backs will eventually crumble with age and the transmitters will fall off.

Eighty percent of these birds’ diet is bones, making them vital scavengers. The number of bearded vultures has halved since 1960.

Dr Arjun Amar of the University of Cape Town said the vultures live in large areas and one adult can feed from an area of 286 km².

“The impact that people have on vultures is very serious. The plans to build several wind farms in the Lesotho highlands will place more pressure on this very vulnerable species and could be the final nail in the coffin of the bearded ­vulture,” Amar said.

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