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.

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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

Bee Sting our vulture with 9 lives! – Bee Sting’s Story Part Five

The wounds on Bee Sting's wing
The wounds on Bee Sting’s wing

After Bee Sting’s visit at Millstream Primary School and rescue by VulPro, she spent some time at VulPro before being released again.  We all gave a big sigh of relief hoping that Bee Sting would now keep her life a little simpler and give us fewer grey hairs.  Sadly this hasn’t been the case; about 10 days ago we had to fetch Bee Sting from Caribbean Beach in Hartbeespoort, she was brought back to VulPro and initially we didn’t realise what had happened to her.  She was able to fly to the top of the 9m enclosure and was her usual cheeky self, our plans were to let her settle again, make sure that she was well fed and then re-release her.  Bee Sting has an incredibly strong and stubborn personality which had helped save her life when she was stung by over 220 bees Bee Sting’s Story Part One, little did we know that her will to live had been tested again.

On the 26th of June, we noticed some blood on Bee Sting from her right wing, our vultures’ health is always very important, so we caught Bee Sting to find out what the injury is.  Imagine our horror when we discovered a burnt area on her right wing and some singed feathers – the only conclusion is a power line electrocution, which this miracle vulture survived.

When we collected Bee Sting she was on the ground in close proximity to a power line but because she showed no sign of injury and was able to fly, we didn’t realise that she had in fact been electrocuted and without another one of her “extra lives” would have been found dead.   Read about power lines here.

Getting rid of burnt and dead skin
Getting rid of burnt and dead skin

Bee Sting’s electrical burn was treated and healing well, until the itching and irritation of the healing process caused Bee Sting to “help” her healing process a little too much and she caused some new wounds.  This is very similar to when we have a cut or graze that is healing and we end up scratching it until it is sore or bleeding because the itching is driving us crazy.  The difference is we can be told to leave it alone and why, vultures don’t understand that rubbing and scratching their injuries only makes it worse.

Dr Dorianne Elliot treating Bee Sting at the Exotic Bird and Animal Clinic in South Africa
Dr Dorianne Elliot treating Bee Sting at the Exotic Bird and Animal Clinic in South Africa

Bee Sting was rushed to Dr Dorianne Elliot at the Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital at Onderstepoort, North of Pretoria for treatment and to try and save her wing.  Bee Sting has a hole right through the joint of her wing and shows some signs of infection, the tendons and ligaments are exposed and she has torn the follicle capsule on one of her primary wing feathers.  The original burns are healthy and very close to fully healed.  To prevent Bee Sting from “helping” heal her injuries, the innovative Dr Elliot devised a cap of fibreglass cast to stop Bee Sting from picking at the wounds as they continue healing.

Soft bandage padding
Soft bandage padding

The wounds were flushed and treated with an anti-bacterial ointment and then covered with a bandage and the fibreglass cap was placed over the bandage.

Great care has to be taken to protect the blood supply to a vulture’s wings as the blood vessels are very close to the skin with very little protection.  As far as we are aware a “cap” like this has never been used on a vulture before, so our brave, tough and cat-like

Bee Sting with her fibreglass "wing cap"
Bee Sting with her fibreglass “wing cap”

Bee Sting is proving to be a trailblazer all over again.

In spite of Bee Sting appearing to have 9 lives, we can’t risk her life.  This miracle vulture is going to live out her days in our important captive breeding programme run at VulPro.  The wild Cape Vulture numbers are so low, that literally every vulture counts to save the species.  At VulPro, Bee Sting can continue to supplement wild populations with her chicks and her legacy will live on.

If anyone would like to support Bee Sting, they will be able to adopt her by contacting either Kerri Wolter kerri.wolter@gmail.com or Mandy Schroder mandyschroder.uron@gmail.com to arrange this.

Bee Sting Adoption appeal

We would also like to invite you to come and visit Bee Sting and our other vultures at the centre, experience first-hand how important our work is, but most importantly come and see how special, intelligent and what characters our vultures are.

Bee Sting’s Story – Part Four- “Bee Sting’s Treatment Diary”

Bee Sting The ActionsDay OneBird and Exptic Animal Hospital Logo

More than 220 bee stings were removed from a very stressed and sore Bee Sting.  She was treated with an anti-inflammatory, pain medication and a Vit B Complex injection, as well as an anti-histamine and a drip for fluid intake.

Day Two

Bee Sting’s face was very swollen, with upper respiratory noises, although she was standing up and able to move around.  She was also treated with the same drugs as Day One and an antibiotic was added to fight any infection.

Day Three

Bee Sting’s face and neck were even more swollen although her breathing had improved, she was also more alert.  She was treated with pain medication, antibiotics, and medicine to keep her digestive tract functioning properly as well as a drip for fluid intake.

Day Four

Bee Sting was starting to make her feelings known about being treated, she was very strong and biting when we approached her.  Her face was still swollen but she was eating.  She was treated with pain medication; antibiotics and medicine to keep her gut functioning as well as a drip to manage her fluid levels.

Day Five

We all got really worried, Bee Sting’s Blood pressure dropped and she was less responsive to us.  Her tests showed that while her Uric Acid and Bile levels were normal, her Haematocrit (the ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total volume of blood) was decreased, her monocytes (white blood cells) were greatly increased showing inflammation.  Bee Sting was treated with the same medication as on the previous days.

Bee Sting Day Seven @ VulPro
Bee Sting Day Seven @ VulPro

Day Six

A huge part of saving wild animals that are being treated is juggling their emotional and psychological well-being as well as their physical health.  Bee Sting was showing signs of depression and because of this VulPro wanted to take her home; to see other vultures and help stimulate normal behaviour.  Bee Sting was treated with a drip, antibiotics and pain killers.

Day 7

Bee Sting was back at VulPro, as hoped being around other vultures, seemed to have improved her mood.  She was interested in food and was interacting with the other vultures.

Bee Sting at VulPro day 7
Bee Sting at VulPro day 7

Day 34

Bee Sting was seen to have severe fly strike, where flies have laid eggs in the wound and there are maggots in the wound.  Maggots are good at eating all the rotting or dead tissue, but dangerous because they will eat all the healthy tissue too and can result in death of an animal.

Granulation Tissue on Bee Sting Day 34
Granulation Tissue on Bee Sting Day 34are maggots in the wound.  Maggots are good at eating all the rotting or dead tissue, but dangerous because they will eat all the healthy tissue too and can result in death of an animal.

Bee Sting’s wounds showed granulation tissue on her left cheek and her entire skull was covered in hard dead (necrotic) tissue.  Her right cheek had skin sloughing off it with dead tissue and her jaw bone was exposed.

Bee Sting with Fly Strike, her skin is sloughing off, there is necrotic tissue and the Maxillary bone is exposed
Bee Sting with Fly Strike, her skin is sloughing off, there is necrotic tissue and the
Maxillary bone is exposed

Bee Sting was treated by manually removing all the maggots, for her safety not even one could be left behind.  The wounds were cleaned and she was treated with a dewormer  called Ivermectin, which would kill any maggots that may have been missed.  As a precaution, Bee Sting was hospitalised again and kept in a fly proof room because it was mid-summer and the peak of South Africa’s fly season.

Day 35

We were so relieved to see that Bee Sting was doing well, even though her skull was still covered in dead tissue; she showed signs of healthy granulation tissue.  Her right eye was working properly, which would be vital to her ability to survive out in the wild. Cape Vultures rely on their sight to identify their food sources – being able to see up to 6.5km their eyesight is phenomenal.

Day 36

Bee Sting with F10 Cream covering her wounds
Bee Sting with F10 Cream covering her wounds

We discovered dead skin over Bee Sting’s crop although the crop itself was not damaged.  The dead tissue on her face was removed, healthy granulation tissue was found and she was treated with F10 Cream.  The good news was that Bee Sting was eating well, which was helping her to heal and stay strong.

 

Vulture hero - Bee Sting @ VulPro
Vulture hero – Bee Sting @ VulPro

 

Day 37

F10 Wound Spray was sprayed over Bee Sting’s wounds and she was put in the outside aviaries and seemed to be happier in herself.

Day 38

A Cape Vulture’s Tear Duct (Lachrymal duct) runs similarly to ours, Bee Sting’s ended up opening onto her face because of all the dead

Bee Sting Lachrymal duct repair
Bee Sting Lachrymal duct repair

and damaged tissue and skin.  It was repaired by surgically placing a feeding tube from where the tear duct opens in the inner eye to the choana (An opening at the back of the nasal passage (there is a left and a right side) that empties into the space behind the nose called the nasopharynx).  Wound granulation tissue (healing tissue) from the surrounding areas was placed over the feeding tube to create a new tear duct.   The area was also partially covered with a skin graft called a pedicle flap and the rest of the wound was covered with a dressing called Granuflex.

Day 60

Johannesburg Eye Hospital
Johannesburg Eye Hospital

Bee Sting had a visit from Dr Isaac Venter from the Johannesburg Animal Eye Hospital, who looked at her right eye to establish how well it was working.  We were very relieved to hear that Bee Sting still had vision in her right eye and that no surgery was required.  Although she had lost a small amount of peripheral vision, it would not affect her ability to live wild.

Bee Sting post release at VulPro
Bee Sting post release at VulPro

Bee Sting Flies Free

1st February 2015, Bee Sting is released at VulPro, making Bee Sting truly one of our miracle vultures.  For a long time we weren’t sure that she would make it and to have her recover well enough to fly free and live wild again is a very special feeling.

Dr Francois Le Grange is open to being contacted should anyone require assistance of this nature when treating vultures, he may be emailed at: lf.legrange@gmail.com

Vulture Heroes

Cape Vulture - Gyps coprotheres
Cape Vulture – Gyps coprotheres

VulPro has been witness to many devastating deaths and injuries over the years.  As with any programme working with animals, the heartbreak is very real and often impossible to bear.

Our Vulture Heroes make all the hard work, sacrifices and heart ache worthwhile.

Follow the stories of these amazing vultures as they survive attack by bees, snake bites and much more.

VulPro – Making a difference, when no one else cares!

Bee Sting’s (Tag B616) Story – Part Three “So the HARD work begins”

The Attacker –

The African Bee (Apis mellifera Scutellata), is an aggressive hard working bee, who produces large crops of honey.  They are vital for the pollination of our food supply and flowers but not so good when you happen to upset an entire hive of them.

Interesting Fact

“Only the Queens are fertile and the worker bees are infertile when the Queen is present. “

Although aggressive the Honey Bee normally only attacks if they think that the hive is under attack.

Turning this

African Bees
African Bees













into this

Vulture hero - Bee Sting @ VulPro
Vulture hero – Bee Sting @ VulPro

Picture1

 

or this

 

 

 

 

and our hard work resulted in this:

Cape Vulture - Gyps coprotheres
Cape Vulture – Gyps coprotheres

 

Apitoxin or Bee Venom consists of:  Honey Bee Stinger                     

  • Melittin – destroys red blood cells (haemolytic), affects the diameter of blood vessels (vasoactive) and contains cellular anti-membrane properties which damage and weaken the cell walls.
  • Phospholipase A and B – which cause disintegration of the cell wall or membrane called “cell membrane lysis”.
  • Apamine – is poison which acts on the nervous system ( neurotoxin)
  • Mastocytolytic peptide – causes osmotic lysis which happens when a cell bursts due to an osmotic imbalance which has caused too much water to move into a cell (cytolytic – kills cells). It can also cause histamine release.
  • Hyaluronidase – causes cells to disintegrate, because the cell wall or membrane ruptures (cell membrane lysis).

The Apitoxin results in the body releasing:

  • Histamine – produces many varied effects within the body. Including the contraction of smooth muscle tissues of the lungs, uterus, and stomach; the dilation of blood vessels, which increases permeability and lowers blood pressure; the stimulation of gastric acid secretion in the stomach.
  • Dopamine – apart from working on the brain, dopamine causes the “hemodynamic effect” which relates to the flow of blood within the organs and tissues of the body. The availability of oxygen to tissues is also determined by dopamine’s effects on hemodynamic variables. In healthy animals and humans, oxygen causes a temporary increase in blood pressure.
  • Minimine – which causes cell membrane lysis as explained above.

A Bee sting will cause you some discomfort with swelling and pain where you were stung.  If you are allergic to bee stings or as in “Bee Stings” case, have been stung by many bees your body’s reaction will be far more severe and can result in:

  • Generalized anaphylactic responses – this causes symptoms such as extreme swelling, difficulty breathing and even death.
  • Serum sickness like symptoms –symptoms are usually mild and shown as skin rashes, joint stiffness, and fever.
  • Haemolysis – the rupture or destruction of red blood cells
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation – which is the formation of blood clots in all the small blood vessels
  • Rhabdomyolysis – is the destruction of striated muscles
  • Acute renal failure – is the abrupt loss of kidney function that develops within 7 days.

As if that wasn’t scary enough, a bad reaction can result in other complications such as: the affected skin dying off (skin necrosis), shock, high blood pressure (Hypertension), the tendency to bleed (Thrombocytopenia) and the destruction of red blood cells (Haemolysis), Pancreatitis, Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or even a damaged liver (Hepatopathy)

Remembering all of these facts about what bee stings can do, now think of Bee Sting –

The Victim

Bee Sting is a female Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) weighing just 8.5kg

Bee Sting - The Victim, horribly swollen and sore
Bee Sting – The Victim, horribly swollen and sore

Attacker                                            vs            Victim

African bees                                      vs           Cape Vulture

Apis mellifera Scutellata                  vs            Gyps coprotheres

Males                                                   vs            Female

220                                                        vs            1

Aggressive                                           vs            Docile

Produce honey                                   vs            Scavenger

The Fight

Bee Sting's tree and hive
Bee Sting’s tree and hive

Poor Bee Sting fell from a broken branch, straight onto a bee hive.  Looking at it from the bee’s point of view it was terrifying for the safety of their hive.  From “Bee Stings” point of view a simple accident became the scariest and possibly deadliest experience of her life.  Stung by a swarm of bees, she had very little chance of survival.

The Rescue Team

It is 5 o’ clock on the evening of 23rd of November 2012.  Kerri Wolter of VulPro is contacted about Bee Sting and rushes out to rescue her, taking her to the Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital at Onderstepoort, North of Pretoria.

Treating veterinarian Dr Francois Le Grange is the veterinarian on duty and Kerri and Dr Le Grange immediately get to work to save Bee Sting’s life.

Dr Francois Le Grange and Kerri Wolter remove over 220 stings from poor Bee Sting
Dr Francois Le Grange, Kerri Wolter and Walter Neser remove over 220 stings from poor Bee Sting

Read Bee Sting’s Story – Part Four “Bee Sting’s Treatment Diary” to see how they saved her

Bee Sting’s Story – Part Two

Bee Sting on the power line at the Millstream Pre-primary School
Bee Sting on the power line at the Millstream Pre-primary School
"Vulture whisperer" Kerri Wolter, talking to Bee Sting before catching her, to take her to VulPro
“Vulture whisperer” Kerri Wolter, talking to Bee Sting before catching her, to take her to VulPro

In the last week of May 2016, Bee Sting was perched on power lines at the Millstream Pre-primary School, in real danger of being electrocuted. (Read more at: Why are power lines so dangerous to vultures?) Thanks to visual sightings and our satellite tracking of Bee Sting we were alerted to the dangerous position that she was in and we were able to flush her off the power line structures and Kerri was able to capture her.

Millstream Pre-primary School pupils
Millstream Pre-primary School pupils

The school pupils received the special treat of a close encounter with one of South Africa’s most beautiful birds and the chance to learn more about the species.  Kerri Wolter is very experienced at handling vultures and knows how to hold them without hurting them or allowing them to injure themselves.

Bee Sting being carefully held by Kerri, meeting the school children
Bee Sting being carefully held by Kerri, meeting the school children

Bee Sting was taken back to VulPro and re-released for another chance at freedom, we are really hoping that this time she proves to be a little more street wise about her environment.  All vultures are special and very important to save the species from extinction, but we’d be lying if we said that some of them are just a little more special than others because of the work that we have done with them.

Bee Sting’s Story – Part Three will introduce one of the vets who treated her and teach us about how they saved her life.