Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Through better understanding, awareness, community education and support the bad or ugly image of the Cape Griffon vulture has definitely improved. This amazing bird being the largest of the diurnal birds of prey in the southern regions of Africa is mainly confined to a small area of south and southwest Africa. It reaches higher altitudes than any other vulture, as its huge wing span takes it to elevations or levels of about 26,300 feet (8,000 metres) above sea level.

This bird sadly is one of the most endangered being listed as “vulnerable” to extinction by the World Conservation Union. This means that the Griffon Vulture is threatened to total extermination and irrefutable disappearance from the world as we know it. Over the past few decades the Cape Griffon vulture has suffered a substantial and major population decline. The greater part of the Cape Griffon vulture population 5,000 to 7,000 birds is mainly found in South Africa.

Electrocution caused by power lines, changes in the migration patterns of large game herds and an increase in domesticated animals, where the domesticated animal is either buried or incinerated when dead, thereby lessening and shrinking the amount of food available to these birds, this in turn leads to dietary and nutritional deficiencies. Today poisons play a detrimental role in the threat of the Cape Griffon vulture’s extinction and endangerment, where in all probability most of the poisonings are mass and caused accidentally or inadvertently.  

To destroy, eliminate or kill most key or apex predators preying on livestock such as Lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and jackal, farmers poison the dead carcass of an animal, thus baiting or goading the predator. The Cape Griffon vulture being a bird of carrion, a scavenger, feeds on the dead animal that has been poisoned causing its death, thus assisting in the demise or unintended extinction of the Cape Griffon vulture.

The unsophisticated, inexpensive, effectual accessibility of poison supplies is a mammoth problem, as the farmer receives incorrect or unqualified information from the supplier, causing erroneous application thereby exterminating non-target species as well as prime predators.
The social eating characteristics of the vulture is unique in as far as that, very seldom will a single bird eat on a carcass. Instinctive and inherent protection knitted with individual security will prevail against other scavenger carnivorous. Intuitively the vulture will wait, until many other birds begin to eat. There have been many sightings of hundreds of vultures eating on a single carcass. This scenario plays out to the reality that if a carcass has been poisoned or even tainted with pesticide toxins and as many birds eating on that particular carcass at one time. This will ultimately dictate how many vultures will be poisoned on mass. As many as eight hundred vultures can be poisoned at one carcass sitting.

This exact picture tells a horrifying story and sadly has been the prime decline of the Asian vulture. Over ten million birds destroyed in ten years. This is a defined and distinct animal genocides depiction.

The decline or waning of the Cape Griffon vulture has dramatic inference on the ecosystem. The Griffon vulture being a bigger bird consumes so much more than other vultures; being immune to many carcass carrying diseases, a small cast or committee of Cape Griffon vulture will devour the bacteria tainted carcass in less than one hour thereby thwarting or preventing most of these diseases from spreading to our ecological unit and environment.

A focus on the reintroduction of the Cape Griffon vulture was initiated with the main objective of reintroducing the Griffon vulture back to Namibia. If we look back to the 1950’s about 2,000 individual Cape Griffon vultures existed in Namibia; today due to a myriad of raison d'ĂȘtre less than 12 vultures exist.

Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) of Otjiwarongo, Namibia together with the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust of North West Province, South Africa established a program with its prime focus and motivation being the reintroduction of the Cape Griffon vulture back into Namibia. This type of introduction is so unique and distinctive, as it had never been undertaken in Southern Africa and could very well pioneer future animal and bird reintroduction programs world wide, incorporating the most endangered species.

The cause of Cape Griffon decline has been increased and accessible exposure to poisons and pesticides, collision, impact or electrocution with overhead powerlines. The accelerated decrease of carnivores in vulture foraging terrain, due to land encroachment and human intrusion, large herds of migrating antelopes being replaced by domestic farm stock, improved domestic animal farming practices and management, thus contributing to a vast decrease in available food source.

Calcium deficiencies resulting in bone abnormalities, initiated by former predators breaking their quarry’s bones into small fragments thereby allowing the vulture young to feed on essential calcium minerals.  

Lastly change in tree habitat by bush encroachment, whereby small thorny trees now make it difficult for the Cape Griffon vulture to spot or identify dead carcasses. If they can recognize the carcass, a frenzy feed takes place; the Cape Griffon vulture will then experience extreme body mass difficulties in taking off with a full crop of food. You could equate this with a fully loaded Super Jumbo Passenger jet, trying to take off from a small farm runway.

In 2004, sixteen Cape Griffon vultures were checked-in and welcomed to the De Wildt Cheetah sanctuary next to Brits, Northern Province, South Africa for rehabilitation. After the birds were given a clean bill of health and declared completely fit for release, they were air lifted to REST in Namibia. Three of the sixteen Griffon vultures were captive bred and were integrated with the remaining wild vultures. This was accomplished by all the birds, wild and captive bred, living in the same feeding site thus forming inter-societal bonds by being taught to socialise. The birds then had to endure or undergo an acclimation process or path thus preparing them for behavioural socialization in the wild. Before reintroduction into the wild, all the birds were held in a release aviary for just over a year. 

If we go back to the 1950’s, of the approximately 2,000 individual Cape Griffon vultures in Namibia a breeding committee of about 500 birds lived and nested on the mountain kranses or cliffs of the Waterberg Plateau Park, Otjiwarongo, Nambia.

So it made sense to have the feeding site for the inevitable liberation of the Cape Griffon vultures facing the Waterberg cliffs in Otjiwarongo, Namibia, as this being in all probability the only natural habitat or locale for the birds in this area.

October 23, 2005 was the poignant day when 14 of De Wildt Cape Griffon vultures all being ringed and two fitted with satellite telemetry were released back into the Namibian wild. However within the first month of release two of the vultures had died. One drowned in a water reservoir and the second bird that had a healed broken wing was not strong enough for full flight. The birds with satellite telemetry are now being tracked and seem to be durable and vigorous; the birds with rings are spotted on an intermittent basis.

With the help of donations from the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust and many other donors, Four Cape Griffon vultures have been fitted with satellite technology using 70g Argos style transmitters attached to their backs by using special harnesses designed in Israel and then released back into the wild.

One of the most salient points is that this project highlights remarkable pioneering exploration and study in vulture research, being the world leaders in fitting satellite telemetry onto Cape Griffon Vultures, the very first in developing the vulture capture aviary and possibly the first in the world to catch and color-ring about 800 free flying vultures in one operation. The purpose of the ring is to record the frequency of the vultures arriving at feeding stations or ringed birds being spotted by the public and Wilderness Safari guides.

As there are only 11 original Namibian Cape Griffon vultures left in Namibia, making it Namibia’s most endangered species, with out the successful reintroduction and release of Cape Griffon vultures from South Africa. The demise or eradication of the Cape Griffon vulture will be recorded as disappearance or extinction in memory.

There have not been many studies, reports or research on how vultures influence or shape the ecosystem, so this project led by Maria Diekmann of REST, researches and documents many facets and characteristics of the Cape Griffon vulture. The information gathered and documented is fundamental, essential and crucial to the survival of the bird, as well as advancing the preservation and protection of all raptor species.

‘Beauty of the Wild’ by Alan Lipa is the ultimate coffee table read combining breathtaking wildlife photography with fascinating story telling, where he depicts and illustrates through his photography an ability to share unique and inimitable story narratives of the animals he characterizes.