Tagging, Releasing and Satellite Tracking

Complete tracked movements of a Cape Vulture rehabilitated and released at VulPro in February 2015
Complete tracked movements of a Cape Vulture rehabilitated and released at VulPro in February 2015

Whether we rescue, rehabilitate and release a wild vulture or release one of our captive bred chicks we always fit a wing tag (patagial tag) on them.  On the tag is written a code (a bit like our ID numbers).  We keep a full record of the tags fitted with the code and the vulture’s age, sex and where we found them, their injuries etc.  If they are captive bred we then know who their parents are, their sex and date of hatching.  The Patagial tag becomes a bit like you carrying your passport, we know which countries the vultures are sighted in, which vulture restaurants and even which colonies they live at if they have been sighted at restaurants and on surveys.

The tags that VulPro uses are yellow in colour, making them easy to spot and to read the numbers written on them.

Young captive bred Cape Vulture fitted with a Patagial Wing Tag at VulPro
Young captive bred Cape Vulture fitted with a Patagial Wing Tag at VulPro

The tags are fitted through the wings a bit like when we have our ears pierced.  They are placed about an inch from the leading edge (when the wing is open the front part from which the feathers flow backwards from), we are very careful that they are not close to a bone or tendon and between the feather folicules,  in such a way that it doesn’t hurt the vultures or affect their ability to fly.

When vultures have healed well enough or are old enough to be released we use a “soft release” method. VulPro has an open air enclosure with low fences and no roof, where some of our non-releasable pairs live.  This means that they have a wonderful life, where wild vultures come to visit them; it is more like a family farm, than a “cage”. To “soft release” our vultures, we put them in this open air enclosure, so that they can experiment with visiting the vulture restaurant with the wild birds.   They can sit on the closed enclosures looking at, and getting used to the surrounds, they can also go flying and come back to their friends as often as they want to.  They often stay around VulPro for a few weeks after being released and as they become stronger and more confident they start to explore further away from VulPro until they are fully independent.

VulPro tries to fit each captive bred vulture with a satellite tracking device.  These send regular updates to VulPro, and we download the information once a day.  This means that we can follow where the vultures go, what speed and height they fly at, the air temperature and how long they spend in a place as well as if they are still alive.  This means that VulPro is able to learn more about how far vultures can travel and what their habits are.  The satellite tracking has also helped us to identify a vulture that has died.  Thanks to this a whole group of poisoned dead vultures were found alerting conservationists to the catastrophe of their deaths.

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