Last month we wrote about the “knock-on” effect of land managed as hunting properties by private owners. This month we would like to expand that to include birds that, although considered a bit freaky, nevertheless play a vital role in maintaining a healthy environment.
One glaring example of a symbiotic benefit of this is the help given to “odd-ball species” such as vultures by land-owners who provide “vulture restaurants” or feeding points. These are carefully selected spots at which dead stock and/or remnants of hunting or culling operations are left out for these birds. Vultures generally are nobody’s favourite creature, given their rather quaint feeding habits. Stop and think a moment, however. They have a vital role to perform too. Along with jackals, hyenas and a myriad different insect species, they clean up predator kills. Properly managed hunting operations go a long way towards feeding these enigmatic birds through the leaving of bones and offal out in the veld where they can be scavenged by these bushveld cleaning services.
Sadly our vulture populations are steadily being pushed towards the brink of extinction by mass poisonings by ignorant farmers and certain traditional medicine practitioners who prize certain parts of a vulture, collisions with power lines and wind-turbines, and habitat loss.
The total population of that iconic bird of the Maluti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (MDP) the bearded vulture (also known as the Lammergeier) is down to a mere 350. In fact, the population in the KZN Drakensberg is the only viable one left in the southern hemisphere. The Cape vulture population in the MDP is down to 1450 birds. 7% of the population was poisoned in incidents in 2013, with a total of 1440 birds being poisoned throughout South Africa that year.
Sadly some farmers believe that the big raptors – the eagles and vultures – are livestock predators – certainly the old name of lammergeier given to the bearded vulture suggests that – but there is little of no proof to substantiate this reputation. Certainly the environmental services that these birds perform far outweigh the possible occasional loss of a small stock animal. In cleaning up the veld of carcasses, these birds actually prevent the spread of outbreaks of anthrax, brucellosis and rabies. In India, for example, the eradication of vultures through poisoning has been shown to be responsible for the ongoing rabies epidemic.
Contacts for birding societies: