Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vulture Capture in the Underberg with KZN Wildlife

I Spent two days in the Underberg with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Ecologist Sonja Kruger and her team who are capturing vultures in order to fit them with satellite tracking devices, and while they have the birds on the ground, they measure them and take blood for genetic testing.

A 6am start at the vulture "restaurant" (a local farmer leaves his dead livestock for the vultures to get rid of) in front of a hide, Sonja and Carmen, a Spanish volunteer, uncover the traps and strategically place morsels the Bearded Vultures particularly enjoy. In the ten days they have been doing this so far, they have managed to catch four Bearded Vultures and one Cape, and successfully fit the devices that will transmit GPS co-ordinates for 6 hours every 48 hours. This gap in transmission is so that the solar panel on the device can recharge the battery for the next transmitting period.

Knowing where the vultures travel, where they their spend time, will significantly aid the efforts to help these birds that are in serious trouble from poisonings, inadvertant and deliberate by some farmers, by poaching for muti, by electrocution on powerlines and by diminished habitats.

On day two I join the second site on the farm, where Ben Hoffman from the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary sits for hours in a Gilly suit (read Yeti outfit!) It starts out freezing in the early morning and then must be sweltering in the furry mass... but with no hide Ben has to be close enough to run and catch a bird if it lands in a trap, as they are very gentle traps and the birds can escape pretty easily and one has to react fast.

KZN Wildlife intern Mxolisi and I sit in a bakkie slightly further away, but he is also ready to run and catch a bird if it lands in his trap. He later takes over in the Gilly suit, sitting for four hours in the hot sun, birds circling but none landing that day. Patience is certainly the name of this game.

Maryann Shaw