Members of the public are asked to keep an eye out for the distinctive tags to help keep track of how the birds survive in the wild after being poisoned.
Andre Botha of the Endangered Wildlife Trust - Birds of Prey Working Group ringed and tagged the 16 white-backed Vultures and one hooded Vulture that had been nursed back to health at the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. On October 11, the birds were found poisoned after eating from a kudu carcass that had been poisoned with the poison Curaterr (carbofuran) outside of Hoedspruit.
At least 28 other Vultures died after feeding on the same carcass. The birds were released at Moholoholo's Vulture restaurant. Meat was put out and some of the recovered birds immediately joined wild birds in the feeding frenzy, while others flew off. The yellow identification tags on the birds are a new method of keeping tabs on Vultures, and the hooded Vulture was the first in South Africa to be fitted with such a tag.
According to Botha, over the last 50 years more than 7,000 Vultures have been ringed, but less than 10 percent of these birds were ever re-sighted either dead or alive. More recently the EWT investigated alternative identification methods that were easier for people to spot. Yellow tags which were designed for insertion into cattle ears have been fitted to Vultures to test their effectiveness.
According to Brian Jones of Moholoholo, they have sighted at least four of the tagged birds again in two weeks after the release. The tags are fitted into a flap of skin on the bird's right forewing where there are no blood vessels or nerves. Botha says, "It is like piercing your ear."
If a member of the public sees a Vulture with a tag, they are asked to try and make a note of the number on the tag, the time of day the bird was spotted, the general condition of the bird and what it was doing (eating, drinking, sitting in a tree, etc), and preferably the GPS location of the bird or at least the name of the area or the farm where the bird was seen.
This information can then be called in to either Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre on 015 795 5236 or sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or 015 795 5333 (fax). Alternatively contact Andre Botha on 082 962 5725 or email email@example.com. Botha says "We rely heavily on sightings from the public."