Africa is home to 11 vulture species.
But human activities are killing Africa’s vultures at a rapid, unsustainable rate.
The Cape Vulture (also called Cape Griffon), Gyps coprotheres is endemic to southern Africa.
Once a common species in South Africa, Cape Vultures are now endangered. 1
Cape Vultures once soared the skies in South Africa.
But today, less than 4,000 breeding pairs remain.
And those remaining pairs are declining at an alarming rate.
-- South Africa's Vulture Conservation Programme (VulPro)
This special issue introduces students, teachers and parents to the
world of African Vultures.
Explore the human toll on vultures; the consequences of ecosystems
disrupted by humans; and the hard work of some of the scientists
and conservationists who are trying to prevent the extinction of
How do we educate and empower students -- the earth's future decision
makers and consumers -- to confront the constant onslaught of reports
and news stories about species declines and extinctions? After all,
species declines and the resulting loss of ecosystem services affect our
lives and theirs, now and in the future.
We can create opportunities for kids to become environmentally
literate and to learn about complex issues, such as:
1. What are the human causes of species declines?
2. How is scientific data used to help species?
3. What obstacles do scientists and conservationists face in their efforts
to lobby for wildlife protection laws and rehabilitation projects?
Kids love challenges. To foster critical thinking skills as well as
collaboration and leadership skills, we need to empower kids to:
- not only explore species declines, but to engage with key players
(scientists, conservationists, governments, corporations, etc.)
- participate in citizen science projects to help scientists with research
- speak up about their concerns and share their opinions in group discussions
- write letters to companies and government leaders about their concerns
- raise awareness about the issues that affect their lives
Your input is invaluable. Please add your insights in the
comment section below.
Inside this issue:
Can science & collaboration save Africa’s vultures?
Human triggers for vulture deaths
How scientists are contributing to solutions
Evidence Exposed: Scientists cracked the case and identified the vulture killer
during the Asian Vulture Crisis
Ecosystem services of vultures
Feature: How VulPro is helping South Africa's vultures
Messages from the Vulture Scientists
Free pdf Ebook; Vulture Tic Tac Toe; and more resources
In Africa, vultures and humans
are on a collision course.
Human activities are killing Africa’s vultures at an
unprecedented and unsustainable rate. Scientists
warn that the collapse of this keystone species will
spark a rise in disease transmission throughout
the African continent.
Can science & collaboration save
Inference: Humans have caused unprecedented
deaths of vultures. Therefore, scientists infer that
if humans cease vulture-killing activities, then the
collapse of vulture populations can be prevented.
Armed with scientific tools and methods, teams
of scientists and conservationists are making
observations, collecting data and making
How can scientific research protect
Credible scientific data is used to:
- Inform lawmakers of critical vulture threats
- Recommend and support laws to protect vultures
- Develop and improve upon conservation strategies
- Develop programs to educate the public and key
players about vulture threats, consequences and
- Reduce existing threats (Example: constructing safer
power structures and marking lines to avoid vulture
electrocutions and collisions.)
- Work together with landowners and farmers to
recommend best farming practices without the use of
poisons where possible
Scientists and conservation organizations are working to mitigate
vulture mortalities throughout Africa.
Their efforts include research and collaboration with government,
industry (such as pesticide manufacturers, pharmaceutical
companies, and power companies) farmers, rural communities,
school groups, conservation NGOs, landowners, national and
protected nature reserves, and the general public.
Did you know that vultures exist on every continent except for
Australia and Antarctica? There are 23 vulture species in the world.
Every day, vultures struggle against
an onslaught of human threats.
The impact of residential and industrial
development combined with specific
human activities are to blame for
massive vulture deaths in Africa.
Conservationist Kerri Wolter of VulPro
adds two more triggers:
1. Loss of available and safe food free
from veterinary drugs and poisons
2. Loss of available and safe foraging
ranges due to land use changes
(from farming practices to housing
eco-estates) or changes in farming
practices (from livestock to
Poachers lace carcasses with poison so that circling
vultures won't draw attention to their illegal activities.
Vultures are also unintentionally killed when they
scavenge on poisoned carcasses meant to kill predators
that have killed the livestock of herders or farmers.
Sources for Human Triggers:
Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa's Vultures
Collapsing Toward Extinction. Conservation Letters.
The Safety and Pharmacokinetics of Carprofen, Flunixin
and Phenylbutazone in the Cape Vulture (Gyps
coprotheres) following Oral Exposure.
Scientists use different types of graphs
to visually represent data.
1. Why do you think the pie graph
was chosen to represent the statistics?
2. What two human activities account for
the most vulture deaths in Africa?
3. What is the percentage value of these
Source: Another Continental Vulture Crisis:
Africa's Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction.
Photo (above): Ogada is about to release an adult Rüppell's Vulture attached with a transmitter to track where it roosts, feeds and breeds.
If the vulture dies, she will be able to locate it to determine the cause of death.
What is Ogada working on now?
"I'm still trapping and tracking vultures in northern Kenya and in other neighboring countries.
I'm working on a number of other projects with collaborators, including anti-poisoning work which at present is aimed at getting structures in place in terms of laboratory testing, collecting samples, and training rangers.
We will also soon start an Africa-wide vulture survey and mapping project."
Darcy Ogada is a Kenya-based conservationist at The Peregrine Fund, chair of the Raptor Working Group of Nature Kenya, and a member of the IUCN Vulture Specialist Group.
This video has been included for readers to observe how oblivious vultures are to the giant turning blades of wind turbines.
Correction: The video (right) was not filmed in Africa, and the vulture is not a Cape Vulture but a Griffon Vulture, Gyps fulvus.
Video filmed by Shannon Hoffman, African Birds of Prey Sanctuary
Nikela is a public charity that tells stories and raises funds to support organizations that are working to curb the escalating wildlife trafficking industry and end lion trophy hunting.
Based just outside of Hartbeespoort Dam in South Africa, the VulPro team is hard at work.
VulPro advances vulture conservation by mitigating vulture threats and helping populations recover through
Special steel supports,
concrete and wire provide
a solid structure.
Individual ledges for
each breeding pair.
Nesting material is provided for
parents to build their own nests.
Spot the real egg:
Can you identify the real egg from the fake one?
Above: An educational display of a false nest with:
- a dummy wooden egg (left)
- a real egg shell (right)
- an open hatched egg shows blood
vessels and inner membranes
Nature Explorer & Story Spinner