Vultures in South Africa are perceived to have magical powers this puts them at extreme risk.
Two years ago Nikela Volunteer Jessica visited Shannon’s Bird of Prey Sanctuary and education center. There she was introduced to the Bearded Lady (photo below) a Bearded Vulture. A gorgeous bird that had recently been confiscated from a rough looking chicken coop. Her captor, a witch doctor who lived in equally simple circumstances, believed he could draw energy and power from her. Apparently he did her no harm, other than keep her locked up…which is plenty, as to this day she still doesn’t fly. Not that she can’t, she doesn’t know how. (Photo of Bearded Lady in chicken coop below)
Its a spectacular summer day as we drive passed the “Closed for renovations” sign down the familiar two track road to the main building. Wow! Shannon wasn’t kidding when she said, “… major renovations.”
In South Africa nonprofits can apply for grants from the Lotto. Like in the U.S., money is more readily allotted to education than conservation. After three years Shannon was awarded funding to complete a dream for an education center. A place where students, young and old, can learn about why bird’s bones are hollow and that vultures brains don’t make you clairvoyant. A place to for discovery and learning, and an unusual venue for business meetings and conferences. All will provide funds for the birds.
Shannon already incorporates many subtle lessons into her flight shows and will soon be able to do these indoors as well during inclement weather. After seeing her birds in flight and learning about their various unique roles in nature, I can’t help but want every child and adult in the Pietermaritzburg area to experience it too. How can your not fall in love with these birds when you’ve felt a hawk fly inches above your head, or seen an owl fly by right in front of you without a sound?
We stop at Jelliebean’s enclosure. She’s an African Harrier Hawk. This is the third time we’ve seen her. As Russ turns on the GoPro Jelliebean disappears. There she is hiding behind a small bush. Is she camera shy? Russ raises the GoPro close to the fencing. She flies into her dead tree and watches him intently. Without a moments notice she swoops at the GoPro, reaching thru the fencing with one talon. What a bird! No wonder they have “Beware, she can reach up to 20cm through the fence” signs.
As the sanctuary is closed for renovations we get a private tour with update on the center. All the while I’m anxious to see the Bearded Lady. Shannon leads us to the back passed the Cape Vultures, and there she is. What a thrill to see her in real life. She is spectacular with her feather pants, unique red and yellow eyes, and of course ‘the beard’.
She runs along her rock ledge more like a chicken than a bird of prey. Apparently when the wind is right she will glide down to the ground, but doesn’t fly. We spend time watching her amazed at her beauty, saddened that a planned wind turbine farm in the Drakensberg mountains, where the last 200 Bearded Vultures breed, will severely threaten this remarkable species survival.
It feels good to know that our donation (two years ago) helped build this comfortable enclosure (pictured above) for the Bearded Lady, who is still waiting for Shannon to find that breeding partner. For now she seems content as she picks up another bone and flings it down her throat.
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