Welcome to the wonderful world of vultures. Kids' Corner shares with you amazing information about our vultures, the coolest, little known facts about them, how they live, fly and the funny side of their characters.
This is a story about hope featuring a special vulture called … Hope.
On Saturday the 25th of March, Kerri Wolter (VulPro CEO) received a phone call from land owners in Schweizer-Reneke in North West Province. They had found an injured African White-backed Vulture on their land!
We immediately requested video footage of the vulture to determine its condition. Our hearts were broken when we saw the video – the beautiful vulture was badly injured and in an almost coma-like state. We needed to get to this bird as soon as possible!
Unfortunately, Schweizer-Reneke is very far from VulPro’s home near Hartbeespoort Dam (even though both are located in the same province). Luckily, we are famous for our motto, “We drive for birds.”
We set off on our rescue mission – entailing a 10-hour round trip – to collect the seriously injured Schweizer-Reneke vulture. Kerri drove through the night for 5 hours straight before finally reaching Schweizer.
Although she was tired from driving and worried about the vulture’s safety, her heart felt immediately lighter when the warmest of welcoming committee greeted her upon arrival. The caring land owners who phoned VulPro had also watched and tended the vulture for hours on end while waiting for Kerri! A lot of people just leave vultures to die or even kill them, but these wonderful land owners did the right thing: they kept the bird safe and phoned for assistance.
When Kerri finally examined the vulture, she saw that the bird had been electrocuted. As a result the vulture had been on the ground for a very long time, which means that she could not eat or drink anything. Kerri administered critical care, loaded Hope in a travel crate, and set back to VulPro for another 5-hour drive.
Hope is now safely at VulPro. Currently, she is still extremely weak and unable to stand. She is kept under constant watch and is being hand fed and given water through a tube. We hope that with the continuation of this treatment she will regain her strength and vigour. Even though the situation seemed dire… with the help of compassionate landowners, MyPlanet funds, and a very dedicated VulPro team … We have Hope.
Today, Hope has shown immense improvement. She is now able to socialise with other vultures in a larger camp. She is now capable of feeding herself and is a completely different vulture from the comatose individual we received 2 weeks ago. She truly is a miracle bird.
For this we also have to thank MySchool/ MyPlanet. The funds raised through MyPlanet cards greatly contribute to assisting with covering the costs incurred during these rescue cases.
When a young Eurasian Hobby (a type of falcon) was delivered to VulPro Vulture Rehabilitation Centre a few weeks back, it touched Amy Gear’s heart. Most of the injured birds that ten year old Amy had seen admitted to the Centre were large vultures that had been victims of powerline collisions or electrocutions but this little falcon had been shot with a pellet gun, an injury that had almost certainly been sustained at the hands of someone around her age.
Amy, along with her dad, Primedia Environmental Correspondent, Simon Gear, decided to write a letter to the kids of the area in which the bird was found, to remind them, that their actions have consequences.
The point of the letter was not to find the perpetrators, but rather to enlist the kids of the area as conservationists rather than as persecutors of birds.
The letter has been distributed among 800 households around where the bird was found and will hopefully be sent out to local schools as well.
Amy is very proud to be associated with the work that is done at VulPro, which is mostly to do with the rehabilitation, breeding and conservation of vultures, but also overlaps into the occasional rehabilitation of other birds of prey.
Dear Dr kerri
Have a nice holiday.
I will miss you very much,l going to miss vultures for period but ĺ wishes to see them flying across our country as well.
I ĺove vultures because they keep our environment clean.
May Lord bless you in everythinģ that you do.
Thank you for saviñg our vultures ,they healthy and strong.
If it was n’t kerri and al of you,we would have lost our vultures and the Atmosphere would smell and dirty
Thank you kerri have a wonderful holiday
VulPro had teamed up with the Jane Goodall Institute’s programme “Roots and Shoots”.
Once a week, children who are enthusiastic about learning and nature, come join us at the VulPro facilites to participate in this wonderful and educational activity.
The aim of Roots and Shoots is to allow children of all ages who are interested in nature to participateand improve their awareness and knowledge of the natural world around them.
The main focus of the programme is centred around all aspects of nature but does also include lessons focused on children’s rights and human social aspects as we feel it is of vital importance that children of all ages become aware of the rights they have regarding basic physical and emotional needs.
During the duration of this programme, kids will learn about:
Humans role in the environment
Respect and human rights
And so much more!!!
The programme is based on 5 week cycles, with each cycle having a different school or group of children participate.
Our very first group are from Kameeldrift Primary school. They have been attending for the past two weeks and have immensely enjoyed the various activities and knowledge gained.
We hope to continue this partnership with Roots and Shoots for a prolonged period in order to allow as many different schools as possible to participate in this after school programme!
Have you ever wondered how a vulture makes and lays eggs? We did and searched to find the answer, so that we can better understand how their bodies work and ensure that our captive breeding programme for population supplementation has the highest success rate possible. Eggs it turns out are proof of nature’s mastery of engineering.
It has been noted during post mortems conducted on vultures that have had to be euthanaised, that the female vultures have a very small right ovary. Like us they do have two ovaries present in their bodies, unlike us the left is larger and fully functional, while the right is smaller and inactive, rather like in chickens. The theory is that if anything happens to the left ovary then the right ovary could become active to continue the ability to breed. Sadly there is still a huge amount of information that we just don’t know about vultures, which is why VulPro works so hard not only to conserve them but to research and understand them too.
The video featured below is wonderful and shows clearly how the egg laying process works in chickens. This gives a very good idea of how it works in vultures too.
All about eggs! – How is the egg formed?
The egg starts its journey as the yolk (oocyte), which is produced by the female vulture in her ovary during ovulation. Each yolk (ovum) is enclosed in a thin-walled sac, or follicle, attached to the ovary. This sac is richly supplied with blood. The mature yolk is released when the sac ruptures, and enters the funnel of the left oviduct. Fertilised or not the yolk travels through the oviduct which is a long spiralling tube. It is in the oviduct that the yolk can be fertilised if a mating was successful. As the yolk’s journey progresses down the oviduct into the section called the magnus; it is covered with the vitelline membrane, structural fibres and layers of the albumen (egg white). The egg continues its journey through the oviduct, spinning as it goes (a bit like a bullet travelling down the barrel of a gun). This spinning movement twists the structural fibres into the rope like fibres that we call the chalazae. There are two chalazae on opposite ends of the egg that hold the yolk in place.
The shell is not created by the chicken but actually formed by the egg itself, in the lower part of the oviduct just before the egg is laid. The shell is made of calcite (a form of calcium carbonate). It is the membrane surrounding the egg that has evenly spaced areas where columns of calcite form as they develop these columns form side by side creating a shell.
A vulture’s egg weighs in the region of around 260g compared to 33 – 75g for a chicken’s egg. When you look at an egg you will see that it has a broader rounded end and a narrower pointy end. As the egg travels down the oviduct, it moves pointy end first. Just before an egg is laid the egg turns around so that the rounded broader end faces downwards – logic says that this is because the broader rounded end provides a softer landing surface to prevent the egg from cracking or breaking as it lands in the nest.
We also had a very interesting case with an African White-backed Vulture who became egg bound and required assistance to try and save her egg as well as her life. Her egg was presented narrow pointy side first and ended up jammed, sadly we couldn’t remove the egg without cracking it.
The rounded end of the egg contains the air sac, once an incubating vulture chick’s lungs are developed enough; they use the air in the air sac to breathe prior to hatching. When eggs are laid they have a natural sheen on them that helps to prevent air and bacteria from entering the egg. Protecting and preserving the sheen is one of the reasons that eggs should not be washed if they are going to be stored.
Eggshells are porous which means that air and bacteria can enter the egg through the pores in the eggshell. The albumen or egg white provides a layer of protection for the yolk which is situated more or less in the middle of the egg. The egg white is very alkaline which slows down bacterial growth unlike the nutrient rich yolk which is a bacteria’s paradise. This is why when we talk about storing chicken’s eggs for us to eat, they should be stored at a 45°angle, pointy side down, this keeps the air sac at the top of the egg and furthest away from the yolk.
A female vulture can fly when she is carrying an egg.
Khaleesi got her name from the “Game of Thrones” series, with Khaleesi being the Dothraki name for Queen. Hatched on the 21st July 2016 in a critical condition, little Khaleesi is already living up to her name proving to be a strong and regal personality. She didn’t have the easiest start in life, being born very small and underweight and certainly would not have survived if she had been in the wild. Inside her egg was an unusual amount of thick liquid, we suspect all caused by a bacterial infection. She was unable to eat or defecate normally for the first couple of weeks of her life. Put on an intensive course of antibiotics, fluids and round the clock care, little Khaleesi slowly but surely gained ground.
A vital part of saving animals, but more especially wildlife, is to ensure that their emotional strength is maintained or boosted. Preventing depression and stress while still maintaining the will to live is one of the best ways to save any wild animal that is being treated or rehabilitated. In order to help Khaleesi survive we had to give her extra care and attention. She was put with her surrogate big brother PePe who helped to keep her warm and give her invaluable body contact to keep her fighting spirit strong. Khaleesi was being fed at this stage, we would place food in her beak which she would swallow. She was still very quiet at this point probably due to weakness, as she strengthened she became far more vocal.
On July the 28th 2016, Khaleesi ate on her own for the first time, which was a huge milestone for her. We all gave a huge sigh of relief feeling that she might now make it. You can see how small she still was in the photo where she was lying next to one of our other newly hatched chicks.
By August the 5th Khaleesi was growing and doing very well. She had really improved, eating on her own and putting on some much needed weight. An important part of her care was also daily exposure to sunlight; natural vitamin D exposure helps calcium absorption for strong bone development. Vultures are heavy birds on proportionately short legs, which need to be very strong to support them.
Update 10th August 2016
Khaleesi attained another milestone, we put her back on the breeding cliff with her parents, all went well and we will be monitoring her progress closely.
Update 11th September 2016
Khaleesi has been back with her parents for four weeks already and is thriving. She has grown from a weak, sickly young chick to an incredibly beautiful young vulture. Today she is just over 7 weeks old, a milestone that fills us with pride, relief and love every time we look at her.
As with all of our chicks, Khaleesi carries with her our hopes for the future of vultures in Africa. She will be tagged when she is a little older, ultimately she will be fitted with a satellite tracking device and we will release her and monitor her progress in the wild.
Our hopes and dreams are to see her grow, pair up and have chicks of her own a legacy to be continued over the years.
Follow her story as we update you over time, on her life at VulPro and her ultimate release and travels around Africa.
All Birds of Prey, especially long lived, slow breeding species such as vultures, are at risk of lead poisoning. Vultures and other animals are exposed to lead shards when feeding on animals that have been killed by lead bullets as well as from the entrails left behind by hunters. It also highlights the responsibilities of places housing raptors such as vultures to ensure that their enclosures are lead free, this applies to lead free paint and a lead free water supply, a problem in many older facilities where water was routinely piped in lead pipes, soil needs to be lead free and vegetation supplied needs to be lead free too, another factor to consider here are the emissions from lead based petrol.
New world vultures such as the Californian Condor are far more susceptible to lead poisoning than our Old World Vultures
In large quantities lead is detrimental to the nervous and reproductive systems
of vultures. A vulture with lead poisoning will show weakness and anorexia, the most dangerous symptoms are not easily detectable until serious damage has occurred. The Cape Vulture experiences osteodystrophy (softening and degeneration of the bones) and reduced reproductive success. For a slow breeding species like the Cape Vulture this has a huge impact on the species population numbers, as well as the number of vultures who experience poor bone development resulting in ongoing fractures and ultimately death.
We need to educate farmers, landowners and hunters regarding the effect and dangers of lead toxicity on our wildlife and endangered species such as vultures. If carcasses killed using lead bullets are to be left accessible to vultures, bullets and any shards of lead need be removed. Hunters also need to be educated about using environmentally safe, non-fragmenting copper bullets.
Why is Lead such an issue?
Lead bullets are designed to shatter or fragment on entry, this leaves small particles scattered throughout the carcass which scavengers ingest.
Lead toxicity in the Californian Condor has also proven to lead to lead accumulation in bone over time
Vultures are a long lived, slow breeding species. This means that their recovery from population drops is too slow.
Vultures scavenge communally, meaning that a single contaminated carcass can poison several vultures.
Understand the Role of Hunting
Every healthy ecosystem needs to be managed by checks and balances; hunting is a natural part of the environment that predators rely on for survival. Man may no longer need to hunt to survive but he is necessary for keeping populations under control thanks to our impact on the environment. The scraps that hunters leave behind help to feed many scavengers and hungry predators, because of this we need to encourage hunters to use non-lead bullets. The effect of lead is not just seen on our vultures but affects our other wildlife as well.
A terrifying fact is that more than 500 scientific studies published since 1898 have documented that worldwide, 134 species of wildlife are negatively affected by lead ammunition.
Human Health Concerns
South Africa is a country of meat lovers and game meat is a roaring trade whether it is biltong or a venison roast, studies worldwide are increasingly showing that lead fragments can also be found in wild game meat processed for human consumption. Added to this we are exposed to lead fuel emissions, plants and vegetables that have absorbed lead and lead found in water carried in old lead pipes.
Lead toxicity in humans can have horrific consequences over time, developmental abnormalities in newborns and children, and may even result in death. In adults the symptoms range from high blood pressure and joint pain to a host of other health issues in between.
The World Health Organisation lists the key facts about lead poisoning as:
Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
Childhood lead exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600 000 new cases of children developing intellectual disabilities every year.
Lead exposure is estimated to account for 143 000 deaths per year with the highest burden in developing regions.
Lead exposure is estimated to account for 4% of the global burden of ischaemic heart disease and 5% of the global burden of stroke.
About one half of the burden of disease from lead occurs in the WHO South-East Asia Region, with about one-fifth each in the WHO Western Pacific and Eastern Mediterranean Regions.
Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe. Lead poisoning is entirely preventable.
Hunting using Non Lead Bullets
Lead bullets have been used because their design allows a for quick clean kill. The rapid expansion of the bullet provides the hydrostatic shock needed to give a quick kill but also results in lead fragmentation.
The modern lead free bullets still allow for the rapid expansion resulting in a clean kill, but don’t result in the fragmentation that is so dangerous for humans and wildlife alike. For those who do love to hunt, there are a number of websites which offer advice and guidance on the use of non lead bullets. They also host interesting and yet terrifying information showing just how far lead fragments travel in the body.
Bee Sting became an unbelievable ambassador for vultures and the work that VulPro conducts when she was first rescued and treated by VulPro and the staff at the Exotic Bird and Animal Clinic at Onderstepoort for over 240 bee stings. Against all odds she survived and thrived and VulPro was so excited to announce her release back into the wild almost two years ago now.
Sadly for those of you who followed her story, Bee Sting was electrocuted at Caribbean Beach in Hartbeespoort. On first inspection the injury did not seem to be severe at all, unfortunately as it healed and became itchy, Bee Sting created some really bad damage as she “scratched” at it with her beak.
Sadly in spite of all the amazing work done on Bee Sting and the innovative methods devised to protect her wound, she just wouldn’t leave it alone. Bee Sting was such a proud and feisty vulture that we didn’t believe that at her age, amputation was an option; sadly the decision was made that euthanasia was the only option.
We would like to thank every person who played a role in working with her and saving her over the years. We would also like to thank each and every one of you, who commented on her story and shared it to raise awareness for the plight of our vultures. Every single vulture is vital to saving the species, Bee Sting’s loss is tragedy that should never have happened.