/ 7 February 2023

Drakensberg Boys Choir helps vulture conservation through song

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Drakensberg Boys Choir. Photo: Supplied

Vultures are maligned species because of their scavenger tendencies. But they are critical to healthy ecosystems. They scavenge on dead animals and can often be seen mopping up where a dead animal lies. While it may look gross, it is an absolutely essential service because without it, diseases would spread through wildlife. 

Vultures have the ability to digest the bacteria in dead animals with minimal fuss. Their necessity to the ecosystem can not be overstated. Yet the species is wildly targeted and killed. This done for a number of reasons, they often alert rangers to where poachers are circling after an animal has been killed. They are also used widely in traditional medicine. So they are often killed. 

There are a number of initiatives around to conserve the vulture. But one of the more unique ones is a collaboration between The Drakensberg Boys Choir, singer George Philippart and an endangered species protection organisation called Wildlife ACT. Through the collaboration, they joined hands to offer a musical piece to raise awareness for vulture conservation. 

They gave a rendition of the song We Are One from Walt Disney’s The Lion King intending to unite cultures and communities passionate about conservation. 

The song

Led by Brigitta Best of Voice, Art and Social, this song has been produced in support of Wildlife ACT’s vulture conservation programme. Its main aim is to raise awareness and encourage funding towards the conservation of this often overlooked species, said a statement by the team. 

“We came to the conclusion that it would be wonderful to produce a song together with an

African choir to bring African culture closer to our compatriots and to draw attention to the need to preserve animal and species diversity. Music as a bridge between cultures thousands of kilometres away sends a clear message: our hearts beat to the same

rhythm.” said Best. 

As scavengers, vultures play an essential role in the ecosystem by clearing decomposing carecesses from the environment, the statement said.

“Vultures provide vital ecosystem services in our natural, agricultural and rural

environments. The important role they play in the cycling of nutrients through the highly 

efficient disposal of organic waste from the environment is of utmost importance to human

health and environmental integrity”, said Anel Olivier, programme manager at Wildlife ACT’s Vulture Conservation.

Vulture numbers struggling

The Mail & Guardian has previously reported that Africa’s vultures are circling towards extinction. Once common and widespread, populations of the scavengers have plummeted in most range states over the past 30 years. This decline has been driven by poisoning — intentional and unintentional — collisions and electrocutions with energy infrastructure and habitat change.

In 2022, 150 vultures were found dead in two separate parts of Africa, 100 in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and 50 in Botswana’s northern Chobe district. Poison seemed to be the cause of death in both incidents. 

Vultures are also used for belief-based use, said Andre Botha, the manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Vultures for Africa programme. 

“People use vulture parts for traditional needs, they are associated with clairvoyance. The signs are that this was ordered by someone who wanted these parts,” said Botha. 

Botha said a crucial way to address the issue was community engagement — creating awareness of the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals and teaching people the importance of vultures in the ecosystem. 

That in part is what the collaboration intends to do.

Bringing awareness

Chris Kelly, Co-Founder and Director of Wildlife ACT said, “it is unfortunate that most people underestimate the role vultures play and how devastating it would be to us if they were to be permanently removed from the environment. We hope that this inspiring piece will help to bring awareness to this endangered species’ plight”. A major concern is that diseases would spread through populations if vultures don’t perform the clean-up job they do.

The Drakensberg Boys Choir, together with George Philippart of The Voice Germany, took to the studio to create the musical piece that will raise awareness for vulture conservation, a cause close to their hearts.  

“It was an honour to sing together with the Drakensberg Boys Choir. I would never have

thought of this collaboration, but music makes so much possible. Music is in nature. You just have to listen. And Wildlife ACT provides for a wonderful harmony”, said Philippart.

Tristan Trent, Head of Production of the Drakensberg Boys Choir says this project took them two to three months to complete because the song was basically done in two different countries. 

“The song and project is incredibly dear to the Drakensberg Boys Choir as it brings to light an issue that impacts our youth greatly. If something doesn’t get done to protect our wildlife

species, then future generations will not get to enjoy them. What a privilege to be involved

with an organisation that is doing such wonderful work preserving and protecting our

Wildlife”, said The Drakensberg Boys Choir.

Trent said proceeds will be going to the Wildlife Act vulture conservation fund to continue their work in raising awareness.