The first GPS tracking collar has been fitted to a Cape griffon vulture in the Limpopo Province. On May 26, 2006 a harness with a 250-gram tracking unit was put on a Cape vulture at Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre near Hoedspruit before the vulture was released at the centre’s vulture restaurant. The tracking unit contains a GPS receiver and cell phone equipment, which will be able to transmit SMS messages containing the vulture’s location for up to a year.
The vulture fitted with the harness came to the centre several weeks ago after being picked up in the veld showing signs of poisoning. According to Brian Jones, manager of the centre, they were unable to determine the exact poison the bird had ingested or the circumstances in which it was poisoned, but the bird is now fully recovered.
The vulture is thought to come from the Manutsa colony, which is the third largest colony of Cape vultures in southern Africa. According to Andre Botha, manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust – Birds of Prey Working Group, the Manutsa colony is of particular interest because the birds from the colony are thought to forage mostly in nearby communal lands, surprising in light of the fact that the Kruger National Park (KNP) is so close to the colony in Cape vulture terms.
Other Cape vultures from colonies further to the west in southern Africa have been tracked with similar devices recently, and the birds have been found to forage in many of the neighbouring countries, travelling phenomenal distances to do so. Sponsorship for the GSM-GPS collar came from Sasol and Eskom and was channelled through the EWT, although the De Wildt Vulture Study Unit will be monitoring the bird’s progress.
The vulture has also been fitted with a yellow tag on its right forewing. This new method of tagging birds of prey has now been adopted as the official method for marking birds in southern Africa, and Andre Botha believes that by the end of the year 900-1,000 birds will have been tagged in this manner. The method was adopted over the more traditional leg rings because it has a much higher visibility and significantly increased re-sightings of tagged vultures.