4 Sep 2009
National Vulture Awareness Day aims to create awareness of the plight of southern Africa’s vultures and to highlight the conservation work being done to protect these birds and their habitats. This year the day will be celebrated on Saturday 5 September.
“The success of our Vulture Awareness Day over the past three years has created international interest, and organisations involved in vulture conservation worldwide have now established an International Vulture Awareness Day, which will be commemorated on the first Saturday of September every year,” says Andre Botha, manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Working Group (EWT-BoPWG). “The Birds of Prey Working Group and its partners and associates, which include the provincial conservation bodies and several other NGOs, will however continue to drive the day’s activities in southern Africa,” says Botha.
EWT-BoPWG field staff are arranging vulture counts at colonies and feeding sites across South Africa, with the help of volunteers and landowners interested in helping with the conservation of vultures in their areas. There will also be several events countrywide where members of the public can participate in live displays and other fun activities.
South Africa is home to no less than nine vulture species. Seven of these face a threat of extinction. The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of only two bird species already listed as Regionally Extinct in South Africa. The Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), whose range in southern Africa is restricted to the Maluti-Drakensberg mountains in South Africa and Lesotho is classified as Endangered and continues to decline in numbers. The Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) only occurs within southern Africa and its conservation remains one of the EWT-BoPWG’s main focal areas. Other species, such as the Lappet-faced (Torgos tracheliotus), Hooded (Necrosyrtes monachus), White-headed (Trigonoceps occipitalis) and African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) mostly occur only in large conservation areas and are listed as Vulnerable.
The threats facing vultures include poisoning, persecution, electrocution on and collision with power lines, drowning in farm reservoirs, a shortage of safe food sources and loss of suitable habitat. There is also strong evidence to suggest that vultures are among the animals most threatened by the trade in traditional medicine. Research shows that these birds are highly mobile and can cover up to 100 km in a day in search of food. This makes the implementation of effective conservation measures difficult.
There is also strong evidence to suggest that vultures are among the animals most threatened by the trade in traditional medicine. This appears to be partly responsible for the current rapid decline of vulture populations on the subcontinent. Poachers use strong poisons to kill the birds and then sell them on to the large urban muthi markets around the country. Consumers who unknowingly buy parts of these poisoned birds, risk death or at best serious illness.
One of the best-known conservation measures to have benefited vultures is the establishment of a wide network of supplementary feeding sites, known as vulture restaurants. These provide a safe and reliable source of food in areas where large predators no longer occur and where modern livestock farming methods have severely reduced the food available to vultures. Well run vulture restaurants have also developed into popular tourist attractions.
A threat to vulture restaurants is the use of carcasses containing potentially lethal veterinary medicines, tranquilising drugs and lead fragments from bullets. The use of diclofenac in Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s) on cattle in Asia has been identified as the major, if not the only, cause for the collapse of populations of the Oriental Whitebacked, Slender-billed and Long-billed Vultures in India and Pakistan. Concerns that other veterinary drugs in use locally could have the same effect on South African vulture populations, and the Onderstepoort Veterinary Faculty of the University of Pretoria, in association with the Rhino & Lion NPO, have initiated research to determine which substances could be potentially harmful to these birds. As information on potentially harmful substances become available, it is disseminated via various communication channels to ensure that any impacts are minimised and that the managers of feeding sites do not provide vultures with food
that could be lethal.
Information about the 67 global partner organisations and the activities that they will be involved in International Vulture Awareness Day on 5 September 2009 is available at www.ivad09.org and www.ivad09.org/wp/. For information on South African activities on National Vulture Awareness Day, contact the EWT-BoPWG directly on +27 (0)11 646-4629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The EWT-BoPWG can also be contacted about any other issues related to the conservation and monitoring of vultures.