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.

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“Puff Adder” Vulture (Tag B430)– first vulture in the world to be treated with snake anti – venom

Puff Adder starting to swell
Puff Adder starting to swell

Puff Adder a Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) as he became affectionately known arrived at VulPro on the 5th of November 2010.  He was a grounded fledgling that had got himself into trouble due to bad weather.  This happens so often with young fledgling vultures, gardens, swimming pools, dogs and electric fences can all cause huge problems for young, inexperienced vultures.  They end up on the ground without enough space or possibly strength to take off again, left alone they die.

VulPro rushed out and rescued him, taking him back to VulPro to be fattened up a bit and grow stronger, before being tagged and released. “Puff Adder” had been at VulPro a couple of weeks when on the 27th of November 2010, Kerri arrived back at VulPro with an electrocuted vulture (Read Sizzle’s story here) to find Puff Adder screaming in agony and running backwards in his enclosure.

He was quickly caught and inspected, with a single puncture wound being discovered on his neck.  Kerri and her team suspected a snake bite, although the snake was never seen and apart from screaming from shock and / or pain, Puff Adder showed no other symptoms yet.

Kerri rushed Puff Adder to the Exotic Animal Clinic at Onderstepoort to be treated by Dr Francois Le Grange.  By now Puff Adder had started to swell, a huge concern was that his throat would swell so much that he wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Oxygen was administered and Puff Adder was also put on a drip.

Interesting Fact:

The Puff Adder (Bitus arietans) is responsible for causing the most snakebite fatalities in Africa owing to various factors, such as its wide distribution, frequent occurrence in highly populated regions, and aggressive disposition.  It is a sluggish snake that relies on camouflage for protection, most bites occur because the snake is stepped on.  The Puff Adder bite is severely cytotoxic (kills cells) and is responsible for severe pain and swelling leading to tissue necrosis.

Puff Adder
Puff Adder

After a lot of careful thought, it was decided to treat Puff Adder with anti-venom.  This had never before been done with a vulture, and both Kerri and Dr Francois Le Grange had no idea whether it would help or hurt Puff Adder, they just knew that they had to do something or he would die.  His symptoms were worsening and not being able to breathe was a very real problem.

Two vials of anti-venom were administered to Puff Adder and he thrived! There was no tissue necrosis (dead tissue), within a week the swelling started to go down.

Puff Adder on a drip
Puff Adder on a drip

Puff Adder was in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Onderstepoort on a drip for 3 days, to make sure that he was properly hydrated, he then returned to VulPro and was kept in a crate (specialised vulture transport crates) for a few days on a drip to make 100% sure that he was healthy.

One month later, Puff Adder was healthy enough to be tagged and released.  On the 16th of July 2011, Puff adder was resighted feeding on a carcass at Shelanti Game Reserve.  This is the reason that it is so wonderful when people share their resightings of tagged vultures with us.  We add the sightings to our database and it allows us to track these vultures.  We haven’t had any resightings since then, but we are thrilled with the confirmation that Puff Adder was alive a year after his ordeal.

Why is Puff Adder’s story so important?

Living in Africa especially on plots, farm land or in the bush makes sure that wild life becomes a factor in your life – good or bad!  We recommend that you should be aware of and have basic knowledge about the snakes that reside in your area.  We don’t support killing them; rather relocate to a place where human interaction is limited.

It is important for you to know, how poisonous they are, what type of venom they have ie what the symptoms are and how to treat a snake bite.  This is important not only for you and your friends and family but for your pets and livestock as well.  Kerri and Dr Le Grange ensured that Puff Adder experienced minimal damage from the Puff Adder bite because he was treated so quickly.  Left untreated for longer because of the position of the bite it is almost certain that Puff Adder would have died.

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.

Bee Sting’s Story – Part One

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

“Bee Sting” came to VulPro in November 2011, aptly named because of the over 220 bee stings that she had suffered from.  She was rehabilitated at VulPro and remained in captivity until her release in February 2015.  Before being released, Bee Sting was tagged  and fitted with a satellite tracking device, so that we can follow her journey.  Her tag number is B616.

Bee Sting testing his wings at VulPro
Bee Sting testing his wings at VulPro

“Bee Sting” chose to enjoy the good life and stay at VulPro with our resident birds until the 20th of May 2016.  VulPro’s vulture restaurant has hundreds of wild vultures and Marabou Storks visiting it every day, as well as the company of the resident non-releasable birds housed at the Centre – Bee Sting obviously loved the company and good food!

Her GPS tracking device showed us that she finally left the property and flew straight to the Skeerpoort Colony, 20 km away from VulPro.  We will be keeping a close eye on “Bee Sting” and will update you accordingly with her progress and travels.

VulPro legend “Bee Sting” flies free
VulPro legend “Bee Sting” flies free