The journey of young vulture J121 so far - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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The journey of young vulture J121 so far

Avatar of inke inke - 18. June 2018 - Environment

The White-backed Vulture with the plastic tags J121 at farm Wiese in early April this year. Now 1.5 years old, he was feeding on the carcass of a calf together with another 15 or so White-backed Vultures and one Lappet-faced Vulture.

Dirk Heinrich

A White-backed Vulture was ringed with number G31384 and fitted with the yellow plastic tags J121 on the wings on 16 October 2016 as a nestling together with 13 conspecifics at farm Aris south of Windhoek. The young vulture sat in a flat nest built of dry twigs 11.5 metres above the ground high up in a Sweet thorn tree (Acacia karroo). The nest’s size was 770x1060 millimetres. Another nest with a White-back Vulture chick was less than 200 metres away.

Back then J121 weighed in at 4.7 kg and, judging by the length of his wing feathers, was about 85 days old. The chicks of White-back Vultures fledge some 130 days after hatching, but the parents continue to care for the immature for another five to six months. White-backed Vultures, like all vulture species found in Namibia, lay only one egg per year. Experts believe that only 30 percent of the chicks survive the first year.

On 15 June 2017 – eight months and two days (242 days in total) after he had been ringed – J121 was spotted at Okonjima Lodge, 221 km north of where he had hatched. Roughly one month later he appeared at the vulture restaurant maintained by NARREC (Namibia Animal Rehabilitation, Research and Education Centre) in Brakwater near Windhoek, which is 178 km south from where he had been sighted previously. Several months went by until J121 again came to feed at NARREC’s vulture restaurant on 13 March this year (2018). A camera trap captured him there with other vultures.

Numerous white-backed vultures, among them J121, and one lappet-faced vulture congregated at the carcass of a calf on farm Wiese, south of Windhoek and east of Rehoboth, on 4 April this year. It was one year, five months and 20 days since J121 had been ringed as a chick. Farm Wiese is some 115 km south from where the young white-backed vulture was seen last.  

This just goes to show that vultures travel considerable distances in search of food. Therefore it is imperative that farmers in Namibia stop putting out poison. Vultures from the north of the country may end up poisoned in the south. Dead and sick vultures were again found in the south only recently. The reason for the death of the scavengers and the weak condition of others: poison! 

Vultures in Namibia, in southern Africa and on the African continent as a whole are threatened by extinction. The White-backed Vulture, the Lappet-faced Vulture, the Egyptian Vulture, the Hooded Vulture and the White-headed Vulture are all on the list of endangered species in Namibia, and the Cape Vulture is critically endangered in our country.

By following the movements of vultures which were ringed, marked and fitted with transmitters in Namibia it has become clear that they not only search for food all over Namibia but also drift into the neighbouring countries, e.g. South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola. Vice versa, vultures ringed and marked in South Africa have been found or spotted here – in the Namib Desert, at the Okavango River and on farms. This shows that individual countries as well as entire regions and continents must be involved in efforts to protect these birds, also known as the clean-up crews and health wardens of the veld.         

The four-wheel drive telescopic lifting platform, provided by Mark Rattay of Peralin (Quarries) in October 2016, made it possible to reach numerous nests on farm Aris. An additional ladder was still needed for some of them.

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