Vultures have been much-maligned in popular culture as harbingers of death and disease. However quite the opposite is true. The very presence of vultures is the sign of a healthy ecosystem and the scavenging function they perform helps to prevent the spread of disease.
Populations of vultures face a number of risks. The poisoning of carcasses can kill hundreds of vultures at a single site, often as collateral damage. Many vultures are threatened by collision with electrical infrastructure or the inability to extricate themselves from farm reservoirs. Others are targeted for poaching outright and their parts used in traditional medicine. Some traditional healers prescribe the use of vulture parts for clairvoyant purposes – the rationale is that a bird that flies so high must be able to see into the future.
Because of these and other threats, several African vulture species are now classified by the IUCN as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The Cape Vulture is one of them, with just 9,400 mature individuals said to remain, and located across a much-diminished range.
Over the years we have witnessed the return of several migrant Cape Vultures to feed on carcasses left by Samara’s predators, but these meagre numbers are a far cry from the populations of old, when vultures were said to nest and perhaps even breed on the rocky caps of the Karoo mountains. One of the mountains on Samara is even called Aasvoelberg – ‘Vulture Mountain’ in Afrikaans.
In order to recover these populations, interventions are required to provide safe areas in which vultures can thrive. Samara is proud to be a part of the recently-launched Karoo Vulture Safe Zone, an initiative by the Endangered Wildlife Trust in conjunction with SANParks and BirdLife South Africa. This programme hopes to encourage vultures to return to the region by eliminating the threats they face across the landscape, whether in a protected area or on farmland.