The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) on Friday announced the first official vulture safe zone (VSZ) in the Karoo ahead of International Vulture Awareness Day on Saturday.
A VSZ is an area in which landowners and communities work collaboratively to implement targeted conservation measures to address critical local threats to vultures, such as poisoning.
Through extensive engagement and collaboration with the EWT, the Rupert Nature Foundation, South African National Parks (SANParks), the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE), SANParks honorary rangers, Karoo farmers and other landowners have created an extensive VSZ in the Great Karoo that spans 23 000 square kilometres, encapsulating three major protected areas: the Camdeboo, Karoo and Mountain Zebra National Parks, as well as the MZCPE.
By linking these key protected areas through a VSZ, the longterm goal is to encourage Cape Vultures to return to their historical ranges throughout the Great Karoo and, ultimately, recover this population.
“The area represents an extremely dynamic threat landscape, where the risks to vultures are complex and challenging and a committed, long-term conservation presence is required to address them,” said Dr Gareth Tate, EWT’s birds of prey programme manager.
“Hence, we have a 10-year strategy in place to work closely with this extraordinary group of farmers to have a sustained and meaningful impact on the future of this species.”
The initial phase of this project aimed to generate awareness of the plight of vultures in the area, particularly the Cape vulture, and assess what changes needed to be made to make the area vulture-safe.
Now, with 90 landowners signed up and their collective properties amassing nearly 700 000 hectares of Karoo landscape committed to being vulture-safe, the focus is now on addressing the threats to vultures on these properties.
Meanwhile, after recent vulture nest surveys across KwaZulu-Natal, conservation organisations Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Wildlife ACT have confirmed the localised extinction of breeding white-headed vultures and have found an alarming reduction in nesting pairs of lappet-faced vultures.
Due to their wide-ranging habits, vultures are exposed to a variety of threats, including poisoning, habitat degradation, population fragmentation, limited food availability, human disturbance, as well as energy infrastructure collisions and electrocutions.
One of the biggest impacts is the use of poisons to kill vultures to harvest their body parts for traditional medicines.
“To ensure Ezemvelo surveys the appropriate areas, we have generated computer models which predict the most suitable breeding habitat for white-headed vultures in the province and the results of the survey confirm
our worst fears, the species has become locally extinct.
“The conservation interventions we are implementing need to be upscaled if we are to ensure
that the other species do not follow the same fate,” said Brent Coverdale, Ezemvelo animal scientist.
Of the six true vulture species in SA, all are now classified as either critically endangered or endangered.