South Africa’s vultures face the very real threat of extinction, from numerous threats mostly occurring from direct and indirect poisonings, new developments, poaching and human encroachment on their breeding and foraging ranges. One of the most prolific threats vultures face are power lines resulting in electrocutions and collisions. At best electrocutions result in burns and not immediate death, collisions result in wing fractures – if the injured vulture is not rescued and rehabilitated this ultimately leads to starvation and death. The best case scenario for the vultures who are rescued is wing rehab/therapy followed by living a life in captivity if not releasable, helping to save their species by being incorporated into programmes such as VulPro’s educational, research and captive breeding programmes for population supplementation and reintroduction purposes.
Founder and CEO of VulPro, Kerri Wolter has always had a dream of mitigating the power lines surrounding the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve situated in the Cradle of Humankind on the West Rand of Gauteng. The first incident on this line was recorded as far back as 1996 and it has taken the dedicated teamwork of all parties to bring the dream of mitigation to fruition.
On the 15th of July 2016, Kerri’s dream came through. This initiative led by VulPro in collaboration with the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) and Eskom, has seen bird spirals fitted to the power lines running through and next to the R&L Nature Reserve.
Kerri says, “One of my personal goals when I started VulPro was to have the power lines running through the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve marked with spirals. Today through ongoing collaboration with Eskom and the EWT my goal is being achieved and the lines are finally being marked. This is a major milestone for all organisations involved trying to save our vultures. Thank you Eskom, I am so incredibly grateful. My persistence and nagging has finally paid off. Thanks to EWT for helping to drive this mitigation.”
The thin earthing wire that are found above the power lines is invisible to birds, resulting in power line collisions being common and frequently resulting in death. Large birds of prey such as vultures have a wingspan wide enough to touch both terminals, resulting in electrocution and horrific burns and / or death.
This mitigation is an incredibly exciting and positive step forward, towards saving vultures found foraging throughout South Africa. We not only saving South Africa’s vultures but vultures from the entire southern African continent because the Cape Vulture and other vulture species are known to range and forage throughout South Africa and as far as Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve is a natural high traffic area for vultures with their active vulture restaurant supplying safe food for vultures for over 29 years now. It is important to note that vulture restaurants should not be placed in close proximity to power lines as this increases the risk of the bird colliding and being electrocuted on lines and structures. If a new vulture restaurant is planned it would be wise to contact any of the collaboratorsVulPro, Eskom or EWT to conduct a risk assessment of the proposed area and receive ongoing support and information for the effective and healthy management of vulture restaurants. VulPro is available to assist with the correct management of any feeding site given numerous important factors to take into consideration. Mitigation of these lines means increased safety for our vultures, reduced deaths, reduced need for rescue and costly rehabilitation and more stable breeding colonies – as colonies that become too small due to loss of vulture numbers will disband and become extinct as breeding sites. Whilst the mitigation of this line is exciting and hugely positive step in the right direction for our vultures, VulPro believes strongly in ongoing monitoring and assessment of the mitigated structures and power lines to ensure that mitigation is in fact effective and therefore justifiable and cost effective.
This is one giant step forward for vultures and other birds of prey and proof that collaborations in conservation are the way forward to save our wildlife.