High up in the mountains in the Eastern Free State on an open grassy knoll stands a vulture feeding restaurant.
Constructed as a comfortable vulture blind (viewing area) for the ambitious visitor willing to hike the 300 meter or so, sun and wind exposed trail up from the parking lot. The view across the valley into the next mountain group back-dropped against the Drakensberg mountain range on the left is spectacular.
It’s an almost cloudless African blue sky day. It’s high noon, as Russ and I make the trek holding, on to our hats, with cameras and binoculars in tow.
“They’ve just put out the carcass.” Is the word from a group of obviously English tourists making their way back down.
We quietly enter the blind closing both doors behind us as the sign instructed. Six men dressed in ranger garb are busy at work, two are sawing and cutting in the back of a bakki (small truck). About ten meters from them lies a skinned Zebra, my stomach lurches and I have to look away. After a few minutes the rangers are done, they climb in the bakki revealing a pile of Zebra entrails.
As the bakki moves out Russ and I anticipate the vultures to move in. Nothing! Another couple enters the blind. We chat briefly. Still no vultures, we thought for sure they would have been watching, circling, waiting… but no.
I see shadows of a bird over-head.
“Here they come!”
As the bird comes into view it is joined by another, but wait! That’s not a vulture! Two Kites have come to survey the scene. After two fly bys they’re on their way.
We wait some more. The other couple has to leave.
Russ starts reading the information posters.
Still no vultures! They sure don’t keep their lunch appointments!
Russ browses through the Guest Book.
“Listen to this!” He says, and starts reading comments out loud…
“Carcass put out at 9am – stayed till 2pm, no vultures”
“1x Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) flew over, no carcass, flew off”
“Beautiful, but no birds”
“No vultures – two caracals on the way!”
“Vulture-less, beautiful view”
“1 immature Bearded Vulture circled overhead”
I’m stunned! The majority of blind visitors since the first of the year saw no vultures and none saw them feeding!
We’d heard and read that the Cape and Bearded Vultures, both supposed residents of the high mountains here were in serious trouble. The Cape Vulture is being plagued by myths regarding its brain giving clairvoyance to humans who ingest it. The Bearded Vulture has been captured by witch doctors for its supposed magical powers. [Read about the Bearded Lady’s rescue]
But no flocks of vultures! Not one seen feeding! Or at least when visitors where at the blind strikes us as rather discouraging.
It’s time for us to move on too. I search the skies for any sign of the circling lords as we make our way down the path.
Movement catches my eye as we get further down the hill, straight ahead past the parking area in the grass. There making his way around up to the knoll, obviously having caught a whiff of ‘lunch’ is a Black Backed Jackal.
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