/ 15 November 2023

Vulture relocation project will be biggest in South Africa

Cape Vulture I (1) Min
The Cape vulture offspring will be released in a private game reserve and be equipped with tracking devices to monitor their movements and behaviour. Photo: Kerri Wolter

In a groundbreaking conservation effort, the department of forestry fisheries and the environment has granted approval for the largest-ever relocation of vultures. 

The moment marks the initiation of a two-year relocation programme aimed at addressing the severe decline of African vulture species.

The first group of 155 Cape and African White-backed Vultures will find a new home at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, ushering in a new era of vulture conservation.

The project is a collaborative effort between VulPro, an organisation whose mission is to preserve the ecological role of vultures, and Shamwari

”Vultures with their important and efficient ecosystem services are a significant addition to the ethos Shamwari has created in restoring a natural and well-balanced ecosystem. In addition the stability and financial support that Shamwari brings provides sustainability to Vulpro’s breeding programme and the future of vultures in South Africa,” said Kerri Wolter, chief executive of VulPro.

Often with a bad reputation for being scavengers, vultures play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance.

They are nature’s cleanup crew, feeding primarily on carcasses and efficiently removing animal remains, helping to prevent the spread of diseases and reducing the risk of epidemics. 

Vultures are efficient recyclers of nutrients. They break down complex organic matter into simpler forms through digestion, and their waste contributes to essential nutrients being returned to the ecosystem. This nutrient recycling is vital for maintaining soil fertility and supporting the growth of vegetation.

A facility is under construction at Shamwari Private Game Reserve, adjacent to its existing wildlife rehabilitation centre. 

The facility will be the sanctuary for birds that for various reasons cannot be released but are valuable for breeding programmes aimed at conserving the species. 

The move is scheduled for late January. 

The partnership with Shamwari brings financial stability, supporting VulPro’s breeding programme and contributing to the future of vultures in South Africa. 

The relocation project is not only a milestone for VulPro and Shamwari but is also deemed as significant as any conservation initiative undertaken on the reserve in the past 30 years, said Wolter.

The Cape vulture offspring will be released on Shamwari and equipped with tracking devices to monitor their movements and behaviour. 

In the second phase of the relocation programme, non-releasable breeding pairs of lappet-faced, white-headed and hooded vultures, along with additional white-backed vultures, will be moved to the reserve. 

The offspring will be transported to VulPro’s Hartbeespoort facility and released at sites identified by the National Vulture Breeding Steering Committee.

Shamwari Private Game Reserve has a rich history of conservation efforts dating back to 1992. 

Over the years, the reserve has successfully reintroduced various species, earning its reputation as the first big-five game reserve in the Eastern Cape. 

The introduction of vultures into this ecosystem is hailed as a critical step in the ongoing conservation journey.