When soaring high above the cliffs the Bearded Vulture can easily be mistaken for an eagle. This magnificent bird is a bone eater and on the brink of extinction.
Would you scale sheer cliffs to grab a Bearded Vulture egg?
Every winter in South Africa Shannon Hoffman and her team venture into the Drakensberg and Maloti Mountains. These rugged mountains with sheer cliffs are home to some of the last remaining Bearded Vultures in Southern Africa.
Here these gorgeous birds fly like eagles looking for bones. Like other vultures they are part of nature’s clean up crew. Unlike other vultures they don’t eat flesh, only bones. To break the bones down to a manageable size they drop them onto rocks from just the right height.
Sadly, due to loss of habitat and other human factors, like wind turbines these huge birds are losing ground.
To save the Bearded Vulture the second eggs are harvested from the wild. These are incubated at the African Raptor Center. Once hatched the chicks are carefully raised to become part of a delicate breeding program. The next generation of birds will be strategically released in remote places to strengthen the wild populations.
Why the second egg? Supposedly the Bearded Vulture lays two eggs. The first chick to hatch will overpower the second. So harvesting the second egg is a sustainable way to save the species.
Getting at the nests to retrieve the second egg, now that’s another story.
Talk about rappelling with a purpose!
Not only does it take 4×4 vehicles to access the remote mountains, it takes skilled mountain climbers and rock climbers to actually get too the cliff nests. Then, imagine keeping a fragile egg safe while climbing back up?
Transporting the freshly harvested eggs from the mountains back to the center is a whole other adventure. What an effort for Shannon and her team every year!
Success! With all the madness of the pandemic, the political unrest and desperate need for funds Shannon reported to us this week that they have six beautiful Bearded Vulture chicks. Okay, maybe they’re not so beautiful yet?
Now that smile makes all the struggle worth it don’t you think?
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