A story of Hope

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The story of a female White-backed Vulture named Hope is based on exactly that….. Hope.

On Saturday, the 25th of March, VulPro CEO Kerri Wolter, received a phone call from land owners based in SchweizerReneke, North West Province. The land owners had discovered an African White-backed Vulture on the ground in very poor condition. VulPro requested a video of the vulture in question to determine its condition. We were met with the heart breaking footage of a beautiful vulture in an almost comatose state.

VulPro is based Hartebespoort dam in the North West Province, so this rescue mission entailed a 10 hour round trip to collect this vulture who urgently needed critical care. Nevertheless, VulPro is well known for its motto: “We drive for birds.”

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.

After a gruelling 5 hour drive through the night, Kerri Wolter finally arrived in SchweizerReneke. The warmest welcoming committee awaited her on arrival. These amazingly caring land owners who had contacted VulPro initially, had selflessly provided care for this vulture and kept a close eye on her health for hours on end. This act in itself inspired hope. Witnessing the change in land owners perceptions towards vultures was so encouraging. Instead of leaving these birds to the mercy of the elements, they had taken the time to safeguard the bird as well as contact the relevant organisation for assistance.

Upon examining the vulture initially, it was determined that she had been electrocuted and as a result, has been grounded for an extended period of time. During this time Hope had been unable to eat or drink and her condition deteriorated rapidly. Kerri administered critical care, loaded Hope in a travel crate, and set back to VulPro for another five hours.

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.

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Khaleesi our vulture Queen (The little Vulture who could!)

Little Khaleesi - captive bred Cape Vulture chick @ VulPro
Little Khaleesi captive bred Cape Vulture chick @ VulPro

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.

Khaleesi at 4 days old with surrogate brother PePe
Khaleesi at 4 days old with surrogate brother PePe

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.

Khaleesi and friend
Khaleesi and friend

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.

 

Khaleesi exhausted after feeding
Khaleesi exhausted after feeding

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.

Khaleesi on the 5th August 2016
Khaleesi on the 5th August 2016

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.

Khaleesi at 7 weeks old, back on the cliffs with her parents
Khaleesi at 7 weeks old, back on the cliffs with her parents

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.

RIP Bee Sting – the end of an era

Bee Sting at VulPro wearing her fibreglass cast wing cap.
Bee Sting at VulPro wearing her fibreglass cast wing cap.

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.

Bee Sting’s Story – Part Six

Bee Sting at VulPro wearing her fibreglass cast wing cap.
Bee Sting at VulPro wearing her fibreglass cast wing cap.

For those of you who follow Bee Sting’s story, you will be pleased to know that Dr Dorianne Elliot’s innovative fibreglass cast wing cap, has worked.  Bee Sting is healing well and is now having her dressings changed at VulPro twice a week.  Dr Elliot was able to fit it in such a way that no damage was caused to the fragile blood supply to the wing, Bee Sting will keep her wing, which was one of our biggest concerns.

She is also a lot more comfortable, so is allowing us to work with her more easily.  In true Bee Sting style, she is giving Dr Elliot’s fibreglass cap a good go, and it is starting to show some wear around the edges, hopefully by the time she really damages it, we will be able to take it off her for good.

Bee Sting's wing when we rushed her to Dr Elliot for the first wing treatment.
Bee Sting’s wing when we rushed her to Dr Elliot for the first wing treatment.
Bee Sting's wing showing considerable healing and improvement.
Bee Sting’s wing showing considerable healing and improvement.

 

 

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The other good news is that Bee Sting has been adopted, Elizabeth and Tertius Bouwer have been welcomed into the VulPro family as Bee Sting’s “family”.

Bee Sting is adopted
Bee Sting is adopted

Cody’s Mazda Advert – “I believe i can fly”

Cody’s Mazda advert was incredibly popular on television, highlighting the then Mazda Wildlife Fund’s work.

 

Cody – The Vulture who changed the World

Cody and Kerri adored each other
Cody and Kerri adored each other

Cody was a Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres), captive bred at the Pretoria Zoo who came to VulPro at about 2 weeks old to be a vulture ambassador.  No one knew then how impactful this single vulture would become for a species.

Vultures in Africa are declining at a devastating rate – we have to save the species.  Without them we face disease epidemics, vermin population explosions and loss of livestock and wildlife.  Vultures are not generally liked by “Joe Public”, mistakenly seen as dirty and vicious.  Vultures needed a saviour, a vulture so special and so unique that you couldn’t help but fall in love with him.  A vulture who would make people fall for him, so that they learnt to appreciate and empathise with the species.

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Cody playing with Kerri

Meet Cody – he became the face of Mazda, the iconic vulture featured in their moving and impactful television and print media adverts. This little vulture put vultures in almost every house in South Africa, in a way that made us proud to be South African and willing to look after our heritage.  Coupled with glorious African sunsets and landscapes he epitomised all that we love and are proud to call South African.

Cody loved to be close to people
Cody loved to be close to people

Normally vultures are quite playful and as they reach sexual maturity can become a bit grumpy about being worked with, so are not best suited to being education birds.  Prone to bite when startled or threatened, they can be their own PR enemy number; one add to that their piercing gaze and they are quite intimidating.

 

Cody at the Mazda filming waiting out the rain, happy to sit with his human
Cody at the Mazda filming waiting out the rain, happy to sit with his human

Cody was the most unique vulture, gentle to his very core.  In his two years as a vulture ambassador he never bit a person or reacted negatively to one.  He seemed to understand his purpose in life and maintained the gentlest and calmest persona.  A vulture’s gaze is usually highly intelligent and quite piercing; it can be quite intimidating as you feel that they look right into your soul.  Cody’s gaze carried the intelligence of his species but held a highly unusual softness that drew one in.  We can honestly say that he was an old soul with the knowledge and confidence gleaned through the ages; he had the inexplicable charisma that drew whoever met him into wanting to be closer to him and even better he allowed and thrived on the interaction.  He genuinely loved to be around people, as seen in the photo above could be almost human like in his interaction with them.  Whilst we don’t condone the anthropomorphism of animals, it was very difficult to not think in those terms when you were around Cody.

Cody completely unique, loveable and the most gentle vulture we have known
Cody completely unique, loveable and the most gentle vulture we have known

As is so often the case, the best of us often die far too soon.  Sadly he died of unknown causes when he was two years old, his post mortem was inconclusive making his death even harder to accept.

To this day there has never been another vulture with his same gentleness of spirit and age old peace – staff at VulPro still become emotional when the talk about him a true legend and a well-deserved member of the VulPro Vulture Heroes.

Cody’s legacy lives on,

“If you can’t make people love a species, get them to love one special character, because one vulture did make a difference!”

The African Dream
The African Dream

Sizzle our Electric Fence Vulture

ElectricityWarningSizzle (Tag B432) a Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) was rescued on the 10th of November 2010 in the Damdoryn area of Brits in the North West Province, South Africa.  Sizzle had decided to go through a property’s electric fence and in trying to get through had burnt his neck severely.  Ordinarily an electric fence has up to 6000 volts running through it; this is what is legally acceptable in South Africa.  Kerri has rescued many vultures stuck in electric fences and never before or since seen the kind of burns that Sizzle experienced – leading her to believe that the voltage on that particular fence was much higher.

On initial inspection, Sizzle had a few singed neck feathers as would normally be expected from an experience like this.  Then he started to breathe strangely, making a horrible gargling sound in his throat, not understanding what was causing the problem, he was rushed through to the Exotic Animal Clinic at Onderstepoort.

Sizzle was anaesthetised and the vet checked inside his mouth, normally an endoscope would be used to examine all the tissue in Sizzle’s throat, in this case, his throat was so swollen that the vet couldn’t get the endoscope down his throat.  Using long thin forceps, the vet was able to ascertain that there was necrotic burnt tissue inside Sizzle’s throat, blocking his trachea (air passage).  Not only was this excruciatingly painful, threatened Sizzle’s ability to breathe, the risk of infection from dead and dying tissue all of which would have killed Sizzle without veterinary intervention.

Poor Sizzle had to be anaesthetised and treated every third day for the next few weeks – this meant that the vet had to scrape and remove all of the dead tissue in Sizzle’s trachea and oesophagus.  After that he was treated once a week until he had healthy tissue left in his trachea and oesophagus.

He was kept with Puff Adder (Read Puff Adder’s Story) for few weeks to make sure that he was strong enough to survive after being released and could eat and breathe with no issues.

Electric Fences

South Africa is a country with a high crime rate and electric fences are the go to first line of defence against intruders.  What we often forget about are the wildlife who have to move in and out of our gardens in order to survive.  Snakes, mice, chameleons, hedgehogs, large insects and birds are all at risk of electrocution if the fence is not legally compliant.  Pets are also at risk should a dog get stuck under an electric fence that isn’t legally compliant.

Whilst we all need to remain safe and secure in our houses, please remember that we need to keep our wildlife safe as well.  Sizzle is the perfect ambassador for the implications of illegally designed security measures.  He was released with Puff Adder on the 19th of December 2010.

Release Puff Adder and Sizzle
Release Puff Adder and Sizzle

Electrical Burns

Familiarise yourself with what to do should a person or animal be stuck in your fence:

  • Turn the fence off or move the animal away from the fence using a dry, non-conducting object made of cardboard, rubber or wood.
  • Know how to perform CPR on animals, especially if you really love your dogs and cats
  • Keep the animal warm as shock can cause a significant drop in body temperature.
  • If clean gauze or a sterile dressing is available then cover any external burns. Do not use cotton wool or material with fibres as they will stick in the wounds.
  • Get the animal to a vet immediately, many electrical burns are worse on the inside than you would expect from the external signs on their body.
  • Make sure that your electric fence is legally compliant with current legislation