10 critically endangered White-Backed vultures have been found dead in four separate incidents in northern KwaZulu-Natal since July.
But thanks to the efforts of the Zululand Vulture Project, GPS backpacks and patagial wing tags were fitted to four of the 10 vultures that died. This not only helped the project’s team find the carcasses, but also isolate the threats facing this species.
“One of the most important principles in species conservation is to identify all of the threats that are faced by the species,” explained Wildlife ACT emergency response manager PJ Roberts.
“Without understanding the reasons for a particular animal’s demise, attempts to conserve and recover the population are futile, as conservation efforts continue to fight against existing threats with no initiatives being put in place to address the root cause.”
Two of the 10 vultures had survived previous poisoning attempts in 2019.
One of the 10 is suspected to have died due to a power line collision, which Roberts said was extremely unfortunate, but not rare.
However, what shocked the team was that seven of the 10 vultures were struck by trains. The team said this has seldom been seen in Zululand, and are investigating what measures can be taken to minimise the risk of vultures and trains colliding.
It is also suspected that two vultures were shot, but an autopsy will confirm this, Roberts added.
The birds were suspected to have been shot in communal land near a protected area. The team found the carcasses after noting that the GPS tracking devices for the birds had been stationary for two days.
The team then discussed the issue with local traditional leadership. It was revealed that shooting vultures was not uncommon in the area.
Further discussions with locals and authorities is expected to take place, as Wildlife ACT and partners continue to push educational initiatives to inform people about how vital vultures are to Zululand and the environment.
Vultures are critical to the survival of an ecosystem. Their job is to clean up carcasses, which helps control disease outbreaks. Without the presence of vultures, it is very difficult to determine the health of an ecosystem.
The tracking equipment used on the vultures has helped Wildlife ACT discover new threats facing this critically endangered species, which will help future conservation efforts to stabilise the population of the White-Backed vulture.
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(Compiled by Nica Richards)