Cape Vultures: Discovering the “Ugly” Truth
The Cape Vulture is one of the nine species of vultures found in Southern Africa (including the Bearded Vulture). The species declined 60-70% in a nine year period and is still quickly declining. As the large African herds of animals have diminished, there is less food for these birds to savage. Sadly, man-made threats put even more pressure on their already limited chances of survival. Most recently rhino and elephant poachers are poisoning carcasses to kill vultures so they are not spotted circling and giving away a new poaching site.
How Nikela Helps
Nikela supports the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary via raising awareness and some funds.
One of the projects at Shannon Hoffman’s Sanctuary is to provide a safe haven for Cape Vultures who were injured and can’t be returned to the wild. Shannon also skillfully dispels myths about the Cape Vulture and why it is important to save them during her amazing flight shows.
Facts about Cape Vultures
Distribution and Habitat
While Cape Vultures are primarily found in rocky areas like land cliffs and mountain peaks, they can also be found in open grassland, arid Savannah and steppes. They more specifically choose layered rock ledges of sandstone and quartzite cliffs. Cape Vultures are the only vultures in South Africa to live together in large colonies. Due to excessive impacts of inadvertent poisoning, the distribution of these large birds has become discordant.
Cape Vultures are large, bulky creamy-white birds with long unfeathered necks. Adult males and females look alike with the same grey-blue color on their necks. Juveniles however, have a pink tint to their fluffy scarf of feathers around their neck. Young birds also have brown eyes that change to the honey-yellow color of adulthood.
These vultures feed solely on deceased animals. Their diet consists of nothing smaller than antelope and they are inevitably the dominant figure at feeding sites. Cape Vultures are capable of holding out against jackals and even wart hogs for food!
Behavior and Social Groups
Cape Vultures look for dead or dying animals. They watch for the distinctive circling behavior of other vultures, indicating they have spotted a carcass. In large groups of pairs, these vultures will travel long distances while searching for food, which they can locate with their excellent eyesight. The Cape Vulture bathes regularly in pools after feeding. Then, it remains in the sun with open wings.
Conservation Status and Threats
The Cape Vulture is listed by the IUCN as “vulnerable.” This means that these birds are facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Vultures are a very misunderstood species but play a vital role in the ecosystem by cleaning up dead carcasses. Poisoning, power-line and wind-turbine collisions and declining food resources are the main threats to its existence. Another large threat is the Cape Vulture is believed by some cultures to have clairvoyant abilities, which explains why they can find animal carcasses almost immediately after their death. Because of this, these birds’ brains are sometimes consumed by individuals seeking supernatural abilities.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Emily Hacker
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