Threat to rare birds’ home

2017-03-20 12:43
Belinda Phetha with a Cape Eagle Owl at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary in Ashburton.

Belinda Phetha with a Cape Eagle Owl at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary in Ashburton. (Ian CCarbutt)

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Plans to build an electricity substation in Ashburton could risk the survival of several endangered bird species including a rare vulture found only in South Africa.

Her white feathers are brown from a mud bath which her kind prefers and she roams around freely in a replica of a mountainside “pothole” created at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary to make her feel at home.

This magnificent bird is a critically endangered Bearded Vulture, which along with two others at the centre are among only about 350 survivors of the species.

Bearded Vultures are found in the Drakensberg Mountains which is the only place in the world where they occur.

“She was confiscated from a sangoma,” relates the sanctuary’s director Shannon Hoffman.

The centre has embarked on a programme to harvest Bearded Vulture eggs and release the captive birds back into the wild once they are able to fend for themselves. This is part of a project to save the species from extinction.

“Bearded Vultures lay two eggs but only one chick is raised because the first chick out-competes the other. So we harvest the one egg and raise them in incubators. The chicks are fed via a puppet that resembles the Bearded Vulture mother so that they continue to recognise their species and procreate when we release them back into the wild,” explains Hoffman.

However, the future of the three Bearded Vultures and 84 other endangered bird species in the sanctuary’s care is under threat from a proposed Eskom substation which will force the sanctuary to move.

Hoffman said the 61-hectare substation is to be built in close proximity and will pose a risk to the birds at the centre.

“With the Bearded Vultures, for example, we can’t take the last of a known species and put them next to a power station and hope that they are going to survive. And most of the birds are here because they were injured by power lines anyway,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman said it is unclear when the move is likely to take place but, even though it is not neccessarily imminent, it is of concern.

It will be difficult to find a suitable alternative site and none has yet been identified.

Eskom is reportedly still in the process of obtaining an environmental impact report.

“They are saying the soonest that a report will be available is next year. After that it would be two years before they start breaking ground. But by that time we will have to have moved,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman said uprooting the sanctuary is going to take well over a year and will cost around R20 million.

The move will also affect at least three households on the property.

“All we ask from Eskom is that they not try and do this quickly but give us a fair chance to survive the move and carry on with what we do,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman said apart from protecting and preserving endangered bird species, the sanctuary educates the public about the birds and how they can help protect them in their communities.

Eskom spokesperson Joyce Zingoni told Weekend Witness it was “a bit premature” for the Bird of Prey centre to start worrying about moving but confirmed Eskom is in the process of conducting an environmental impact assessment in the area.

“Only once that is done will we be able to tell how the project will proceed. The community can voice any concerns to the consultants doing the environmental impact assessment,” she said.

Read more on:    birds  |  pietermaritzburg

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