On arriving at Haak-en-Steek Cottage at Mokala National Park on the 27th of April 2018, we found this young White-backed Vulture waiting to welcome us. Thanks to the tag fitted conspicuously on the wing it was easy to identify him / her as “Vulture W428”, and of course we wanted to find out more about this bird.
Mokala’s Park Manager put us in contact with Angus Anthony of the EWT’s Vulture Monitoring Project, thanks to whom we learned that Vulture W428 is one of 56 chicks that were tagged on their nests on Dronfield, a farm just north of the city of Kimberley in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, in October 2017. Once they become independent, these juvenile White-backed Vultures may roam very widely – even as far afield as Angola! Obviously Vulture W428 is a little less adventurous and likes staying closer to home. This may be because there’s a vulture feeding station on Dronfield, where there’s presently a growing population of about 100 breeding pairs of White-backed Vultures.
Research projects like these are invaluable in protecting South Africa’s dwindling vulture populations. Reporting sightings of tagged birds allow researchers to follow their movement and breeding patterns, glean information about their behaviour (do they mate for life, do pairs return to the same nest annually, etc) and calculate their life expectancy. Thanks to the tags it could be established for instance that young vultures return from their explorations to breed at Dronfield when they’re 4 to 5 years old, but then the question is whether the same holds true for other breeding colonies? This is vital information, considering that the IUCN recently reclassified the White-backed Vulture as Critically Endangered due to a rapid and enormous decline in their populations.
If you are lucky to see one of these tagged vultures while travelling through South Africa (or one of our neighbouring countries), please do share that information with the EWT – what may seem like a little piece of information may be vital to their continued survival. The kind of information the researchers are hoping for include the location (gps co-ordinates would be handy), date and time of the sighting, the colour and code of the tag, comments about the bird’s behaviour at the time (feeding, roosting, nesting, flying, solitary or with other vultures, etc), if possible the species and whether it is an adult or juvenile, and of course your own contact details in case they have follow-up questions.
This is a fantastic way to contribute to the protection of our natural heritage!
If you’d like to learn more about Mokala National Park, why not have a read through the detailed post we did about the Park in 2016.