How to help conserve vultures

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The numbers of the six vulture species found in South Africa are declining and some of these species face extinction. This is a great concern for conservationists and wildlife experts.

The main reason for the decline in populations is a combination of persecution, electrocution, poisoning and the illegal trade of body parts for traditional medicine. These birds provide critically important ecosystem services by cleaning up carcasses and reducing the risk of the spread of diseases, resulting in economic and human health benefits.

For many years, the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters) raised awareness about the decline in numbers and initiated vulture conservation projects among its more than 44 000 members countrywide.

Conservation projects

SA Hunters’ Gen De la Rey branch in Lichtenburg, North West, has been managing an active vulture restaurant for several years. The Lichtenburg site is visited by up to 200 vultures simultaneously during feeding times. Other than providing a safe feeding site for these birds, sites such as these also serve as conservation education centres for youth groups and local communities. The Mopani Branch in the Lowveld also started processes for managing a vulture restaurant and for recording and managing safe breeding sites.

A vulture restaurant in Lichtenburg, North West.

SA Hunters recently established a vulture heritage site initiative that requires the registration of landowners to support vulture conservation by protecting breeding sites, securing safe feeding and drinking sites, and monitoring birds that visit their farms. In return, SA Hunters will provide landowners with a certificate of recognition for participation in vulture conservation and information. Furthermore, the organisation will provide support on vulture-related matters in collaboration with conservation partners. This includes support with monitoring and rescuing injured birds.

Interested landowners may register their land as vulture heritage sites with SA Hunters at no cost when they undertake to support vulture conservation by:

  • Protecting breeding sites on their land.
  • Securing safe feeding and drinking sites for the birds on their property.
  • Assisting with annual monitoring of the birds on their land.
  • Ensuring that hunting and wildlife management activities on their land do not pose a risk to these birds.

Additionally, SA Hunters, together with other conservation bodies, participates in the National Vulture Task Force, which was established by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment. The overall aim of the task force is to guide vulture conservation in southern Africa.

Poisoning of vultures

SA Hunters also plays an active role in the National Wildlife Poison Prevention Working Group and the National Lead Task Team that address concerns and seek practical solutions to the negative impact of unintended lead poisoning of vultures resulting from hunting activities.

There is evidence that lead fragments from lead-based ammunition used in wildlife management, hunting and farming practices can harm wildlife. When carcasses of animals shot with lead-based ammunition are donated to vulture restaurants or left in the veld to support scavengers, it poses a risk to these majestic birds and other scavengers.

Landowners may register their land as vulture heritage sites with SA Hunters at no cost.

SA Hunters, together with the rest of the task team, is developing a series of informative documents to raise awareness among users of lead-based ammunition to reduce risks to wildlife, including vultures. The organisation is taking the lead in a process to improve the availability of affordable lead-free ammunition for the most commonly used rifle calibres and shotguns in South Africa.

Lizanne Nel, conservation manager at SA Hunters, says the declining numbers of vultures should be a concern for every citizen. “Since its inception in 1949, SA Hunters has been committed to conservation. One cannot live off the land and spend long hours in the veld and not develop an understanding and deep connection with nature. The organisation will continue in its commitment to vulture conservation and invite the public and other role-players in the wildlife sector, locally and in neighbouring countries, to join its concerted efforts in conserving these magnificent birds.

An injured vulture.

“To improve our knowledge of the distribution, breeding, biology, poisoning and electrocution incidents, SA Hunters included a section for the recording of vulture sightings in a smartphone App that is developed in-house. This will enable members to capture sightings of rare and threatened species and the data will be used to support important conservation efforts,” Nel concluded. – Press release, SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association

For more information about the Vulture Heritage Programme and opportunities to get involved, contact Lizanne Nel at lizanne@sahunt.co.za.

The public can also donate to the conservation trust:

Account Name: Tinyarhi Trust

PBO Number: 930072003

Bank: ABSA

Account number: 4093220340

Reference: Vulture