Bearded vultures in South Africa’s Drakensberg mountains are endangered through unintended poisoning by farmers using antibiotics and anti-inflammatorys to treat their sick livestock which after they die are left out for the vultures. And then there are the traditional healers who believe that consuming parts of the birds allows vision of the future. And now a planned wind farm on the Lesotho side of the Drakensberg Mountains endangers more of the last 350 surviving vultures. Vultures are particularly prone to colliding with turbine blade. One can expect that for every 10 turbines at least one vulture will be killed every year. A decline in bird numbers on the Lesotho side of the mountain will reduce the chance of the population in KwaZulu-Natal surviving .
Conservationists have strapped solar-powered trackers to some of the birds, enabling their flight to be monitored by satellite. The tracking helps to determine causes of death and identify high-use areas in which to focus conservation efforts. They want to protect the vultures’ aerie in a stretch of the Drakensberg, a range that snakes for 1,000 kilometres through eastern South Africa, climbing as high as 11,400 feet. They also are are trying to dissuade farmers from laying the deadly bait that kills jackals that take their sheep — but also poisons the birds of prey.
The vultures have a wingspan of 2.7 metres and stand 1.15 metres tall. They live off a diet of bone and marrow, extracting nourishment by dropping the bones of dead animals from height and dashing them on the rocks below.
The grim outlook for South Africa’s bearded vultures contrasts with the success of a program in Europe that has limited the decline in the species’ numbers there since 1970 to 10 per cent. In the Swiss Alps and the French Pyrenees, numbers have increased thanks to a strategy agreed to, and followed by governments and private organisations, according to BirdLife International.
Vulture viewing in the Drakensberg
- Lammergeyer Hide at Giants Castle
This famous hide offers excellent viewing of raptors such as Bearded Vulture and Verreaux’s Eagle. Visitors can get close to and photograph a wide variety of birds. The hide is open all year round, but advanced bookings are essential. phone 036 – 353 3718 or fax 036 – 353 3775.
- The new vulture hide at Giants Castle
The hide is open all year round, but advanced bookings are essential. phone 036 – 353 3718 or fax 036 – 353 3775.
- Cathedral Peak vulture hide
- Monks Cowl vulture Hide