Africa’s largest vulture relocation project gets the green light

The largest relocation of vultures ever undertaken reached a critical milestone, when approval was granted to move a first tranche of 155 birds to a new home in the Eastern Cape.

Now that the Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment has given the green light, work is underway on a bespoke facility at Shamwari Private Game Reserve adjacent to its existing Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

VulPro at Shamwari will be the new home for the Cape and African white-backed vultures that will be transported from their current home at VulPro’s Hartebeespoort Dam facility in late January 2024 during the first phase of the two-year relocation programme.

VulPro is the only vulture conservation facility of its kind on the continent and is spearheading population restocking and supplementation to address the severe decline of African vulture species.

VulPro CEO Kerri Wolter says the partnership with Shamwari will create a safe area for both in-situ and ex-situ conservation programmes.

“Vultures, with their important and efficient ecosystem services, are a significant addition to the ethos Shamwari has created in restoring a natural and well-balanced ecosystem. In addition, the stability and financial support that Shamwari brings provides sustainability to Vulpro’s breeding programme and the future of vultures in South Africa.”

She explains that the vultures being moved to VulPro at Shamwari are all non-releasable breeding birds. After the Cape and African white-backed vultures move in January, a second phase will see non-releasable breeding pairs of lappet-faced, white-headed and hooded vultures and some additional white-backed vultures being relocated.

The Cape vulture offspring will be released on Shamwari and will all be fitted with tracking devices. The remaining species’ offspring will be transported back to VulPro’s Hartebeespoort facility where they will be sent to release sites that the National Vulture Breeding Steering Committee has identified as areas where the species needs bolstering and support.

Joe Cloete, Shamwari CEO, says that in conservation terms, the project is as significant as anything that has been done on the reserve over the past 30 years.

The Shamwari conservation project began in 1992 when it started trying to reverse nearly 300 years of human impact by reintroducing elephant, white rhino and hippo in 1992. Black rhino and buffalo followed in 1993/4. Cheetah, lion and brown hyena were brought back in 2000 and serval and leopard the next year, making Shamwari the first big-five game reserve in the Eastern Cape.

“Vultures play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, are part of our natural heritage and are severely threatened. I cannot overstate how reintroducing Cape vultures is a critical step in the continuing evolution of our conservation journey and enhancing the ecological importance of the reserve.”

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