These chicks will take their first flight into the wild to join the Magaliesberg’s Cape Vultures, marking the initiation of a population recovery plan which has taken years of preparation.Seven captive-bred Cape Vultures from VulPro and three from the National Zoological Gardens were released into VulPro’s open-top enclosure, located adjacent to the rehabilitation enclosure in which they are currently housed.Moving birds to the open-top enclosure allows them to ‘release’ themselves when they feel ready to leave. The birds can either remain inside the safey of this enclosure, or join the wild vultures feeding at the vulture restaurant adjacent to the captive breeding enclosure where the VulPro vultures were raised and have already interacted with the wild vultures from inside.
Each vulture is fitted with a tracking device on its back to monitor their movements with locality readings, altitude, speed, temperature and direction every 15 minutes. In addition, each bird is fitted with wing tags on both wings for visual resightings. These tags have been especially designed in Spain and are far superior to the current tags used in South Africa. They can be read from both the top and underneath surfaces of the birds’ wings and do not fade as the writing has been cut out instead of laser-printed.VulPro is appealing to all members of the public to please report tagged resightings as this data is extremely important to the success of this release project.VulPro, a vulture conservation programme in the North West Province’s Magaliesburg Mountains, is located within 100 km of two active and one extinct Cape Vulture breeding colonies.
In 2011, VulPro initiated a captive breeding programme for Cape Vulture population supplementation. Eggs are artificially incubated and returned to the parents for rearing outside of human contact. Between 2011 and 2014, VulPro’s breeding population has produced nine healthy chicks for release, seven of which will be released in February. Chicks born in this programme will establish the founding population of the Magaliesberg Cape Vulture supplementation programme and Cape Vulture reintroduction programmes within southern Africa.
Cape Vultures are endemic to southern Africa and classified as regionally endangered and globally vulnerable with under 4 000 breeding pairs remaining. The Magaliesberg is home to three breeding colonies of Cape Vultures, however, the historically largest colony, The Roberts’ Farm Cape Vulture colony, went extinct in 2012 due to power line collisions and electrocutions and indirect and irresponsible use of poisons by farmers and landowners. These threats are being addressed on a daily basis with the help of concerned landowners and VulPro now hopes to attract vultures back to this site.
The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa’s Manager of Animal Collections and Conservation, Tracy Rehse says,”zoos are increasingly becoming more involved in the in situ conservation of species, either through field work or reintroduction programmes. As more and more species are threatened with extinction the importance of reintroduction programmes cannot be underestimated, and as such we applaud VulPro for this initiative”.
VulPro’s breeding programme is sponsored by Birmingham Zoo, Cellular Tracking Technologies, Copper Sunset Sands (Pty) Ltd, Hernic Ferrochrome, Montecasino Bird Gardens, The Moore Foundation, The National Birds of Prey Trust, Rand Merchant Bank, The Rufford Foundation, Tusk Trust and Wild Exposure.