Wildlife conservationists attempt to save a wildlife species close to extinction, namely the Bearded Vulture.
High up in the rocky crags of the Drakensberg Mountains the last of the majestic Bearded Vultures build their nests.
The Bearded Vultures pair for life and lay two eggs. However, only one chick ever survives. The one that hatches first sits on the second upon emerging from the egg.
Biologists and researchers have found that in species like the Bearded Vulture, the second egg can be harvested and saved.
Right now, according to Shannon with the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary, it is time to seriously consider such action as the gene pool is rapidly dwindling with only 300 birds supposedly left in the Drakensberg area.
As always on our visit to Shannon’s sanctuary we stop by to visit the Bearded Lady. A Vulture who was rescued a few years ago from a medicine man who’d had her confined to a chicken coop. What a fabulous looking bird she is. Her striking looks alone should be reason enough to help save her kind.
Harvesting that second egg is anything but simple. As you can imagine the nests are high up and tucked away on mountain cliffs. Some can only be reached by helicopter with a skilled person being lowered carefully down to the nest. Others require an experienced rock climber to access the nest. Besides that, it is crucial that the correct egg be identified and that the nest or already hatched first chick not be stressed or disturbed.
If that wasn’t enough, the harvested egg must be kept at incubating temperature once removed from the nest and transported safely, without cracking or breaking, across rugged terrain either on horse back or 4×4.
After all that effort there is no guarantee that the egg is viable, or that the chick will be healthy and survive.
Of course one or two chicks are not enough. To create a healthy gene pool at least 20 birds are needed. So the harvesting process needs to be repeated numerous times and not from the same nest or pair of Beardeds.
When the chick hatchs feeding it becomes an issue. Bearded Vultures eat bones. Baby Beardeds need bones. At first tiny mouse and then rat bones seem to be acceptable.
Getting them to feed is another story. Most don’t voluntary start eating, they need to be coaxed, their little beaks stimulated to open.
Gosh, makes me feel exhausted… and that’s just the first part which doesn’t include all the care that happens next or the approvals, red tape and funding requests that must be made before even starting such a long term project. Oh yes, did I mention it takes up to seven years for a Bearded Vulture to breed?
Despite the monumental commitment such a breeding project to save a wildlife species would entail there is twinkle in Shannon’s eye. A look that seems to say, “if we here in KZN don’t do it who will” save the Bearded Vulture from certain extinction?