Cape Vulture Breeding and Reintroduction Programme
John Werth – Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA), Florida, South Africa
This is the first study to look at the survival of captive-reared Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) chicks. The project plans to expand supplementations in South Africa, with the long-term goal being the reintroduction of the Cape vulture to Namibia, where it is now extinct as a breeding species.
Captive breeding and reintroduction programmes have proven successful for vulture populations in Europe and India. However, all vultures cannot be lumped into a single category. Cape vultures behave differently than Griffon vultures in Europe, or Oriental white-backed vultures in India, and cannot be managed (housed and bred) in exactly the same way. This study identifies the best age to release Cape vultures and determines age-specific patterns in ranging and competitive behaviours.
The first release of three different ages of captive-bred Cape vultures was into the Magaliesberg Mountains, South Africa, in February 2015. These chicks were all raised at VulPro. Since the most important part of any reintroduction and research programme is post-release monitoring, each bird was fitted with a solar-powered GPS tracking unit. For the past year after release, VulPro has monitored the integration of the released Cape vultures into wild populations by observing ranging and roosting behaviours (using the GPS units), competitive behaviours, weight gain and body condition, all at VulPro's vulture restaurant. Key conservation research questions for the reintroduction are: How quickly will these chicks explore new areas? How do their behaviours differ from wild birds? And (long term) will they return to the release site to breed?
Specific objectives of the programme are: 1) Supplement the existing Magaliesberg Cape vulture population with viable, free-ranging captive-bred individuals that require minimal long-term management. 2) Identify the best age to release Cape vultures to maximise survival and minimise conservation organisations' resource use. 3) Identify age-specific patterns in ranging behaviours and range accumulation of released captive-bred Cape vultures. 4) Produce a baseline dataset of wild vulture competitive behaviours. 5) Identify age-specific patterns in competitive behaviours of wild and captive-bred Cape vultures. 6) Publish the protocols used for egg collection, artificial incubation and housing of Cape vultures.
The Cape vulture programme is a PAAZA African Preservation Programme (APP). All birds are registered in the PAAZA studbook, which is coordinated by VulPro.