Saving the Cape Vulture
To promote the survival of Cape griffon vultures in Namibia
Fifty years ago, Namibia was home to more than 2,000 Cape vultures, or Cape griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres), the heaviest of the regions vultures and endemic to southern Africa. As recently as the 1950s, an estimated 500 birds nested in the cliffs of the Waterberg Plateau alone, a large, table-topped monolith of red-rock mountain that dominates the eastern horizon of northern Namibia’s cattle country and is home to a national park that is successful in the breeding of rare and endangered species such as sable, roan and black rhino.
By 2000, the number of Cape vultures in Namibia had plummeted to no more than a dozen. The major reason for such a rapid decline is believed to be poison. Poison makes few distinctions among its victims, and vultures, because they feed in large groups, are particularly susceptible to mass die-offs. When just one poisoned vulture is reported, one has to assume that anywhere between 50-500 are dying somewhere in the bush. It appeared inevitable that the Cape vulture would vanish for good.
The near extinction of the Cape Griffon vulture in Namibia was the reason why the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) was established in 2000. REST ‘s mission is to initiate and support the scientific and practical study of rare and endangered species in Namibia, especially developing and facilitating solutions to community, national and international problems with these species, while striving to maintain socio-ecological balance and biodiversity. REST aims at stabilising the decline of Cape Griffons and increasing the population of Cape Griffon vultures to traditional sustainable levels by eliminating to a large extent the external forces contributing to the decline. This should be reached by educating the community, nation and world on the importance of vulture species and other lesser know endangered species. In addition, they want to begin major studies not already done, on all aspects of these species.
In the last 5 ½ years REST have managed to gather a dedicated team of researchers and conservationists and have begun implementing studies on many aspects of vulture behaviour. They have also begun major informational campaigns for Namibia and the region, supplying farmers with necessary information on poisons and the general community on the importance of vultures to the ecological systems of the world. They began work in schools and launched the Save Our Species Campaign for Namibian school children.
Highlighted activities were: Attaching the first satellite telemetry to a vulture in Africa, capturing the highest record of adult free flying vultures in the world (approx. 800 in 15 months) without injuring a vulture, researching a variety of topics while feeding approx. 500 wild vultures a week and showing that the wild birds have not become dependant of the artificial feeding site (including studies on calcium intake, feeding regularity, species and age hiarchy etc.), releasing the first translocated Cape Griffons back into Namibia, discovery the high likelihood of interbreeding between the Cape Griffon and the whitebacked vulture, developing strategies for farmers and poisons that have gathered major regional respect and utilisation, beginning major studies on habitat use and vegetation and effects on vultures, beginning testing for production of scent and noise collars for problem animal control that will then we handed over to a previously disadvantaged working group for retail to farmers, achieving huge publicity and public awareness with our ‘Flight for the Plight' air shows held every 2-3 years, and an SOS campaign that has already reached over 2000 children and by mid 2006 will reach over 6000.
WAZA Conservation Project 06012 is implemented by the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) and supported by the Africa Conservation Science Centre, Namibia Nature Foundation, Natural Encounters and DeWildt Cheetah & Wildlife Trust, Namibian Nedbank's "Go Green" fund, UNDP-GEF Small Grants, Air Namibia, Rufford Small Grants, Wilderness Safaris and individual benefactors.
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