They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and the wildlife poisoning incident that occurred outside Hoedspruit last October is now providing valuable information on vulture movements and the effectiveness of a new method of tagging birds of prey. About 45 vultures were found scattered around the corpse of a poisoned kudu last October, and of these only 17 could be saved from the effects of the carbofuran poison that killed the kudu.
After getting medical treatment and recovering they were tagged by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and released from Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre outside of Hoedspruit on November 4, 2005. Over the last four months, there have been about 40 re-sightings of the yellow-tagged vultures, involving nine of the 17 individuals.
The sightings show how far afield vultures can forage, as one whitebacked vulture was seen on a buffalo carcass near Lower Sabie in the Kruger National Park, about 200km from the tagging site. The only hooded vulture to survive the poisoning and the first in South Africa to get the new type of tag was seen at Kapama’s vulture restaurant just outside Hoedspruit in December and a couple of weeks later was spotted near Skukuza.
The number of re-sightings of the 17 tagged birds is remarkable, as Andre Botha, the head of the EWT’s Birds of Prey Working Group, says that with the old method of ringing birds, less than 10 percent of the 7,000 birds ringed over the last 50 years were ever re-sighted, dead or alive.
The new method of tagging the birds involves inserting a cattle tag into a flap of skin on the bird’s right forewing where there are no blood vessels or nerves. The tags are far more obvious than the ring system, and Botha says that the public play a vital role in reportingsightings.
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. The information can be passed on to Andre Botha on 082 962 5725 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• A Cape vulture has also been tagged and released recently in the Hoedspruit area.