THE EAGLE’S EYE NEWSLETTER

Birds of Prey Programme 

September 2016

Dear Eagle’s Eye Readers,

Face-to-face interaction among the EWT’s Birds of Prey Programme, communities, traditional healers, law enforcement, government officials and so on can encourage a more collaborative zero tolerance approach to vulture poisoning.  Understanding the threats they face is the first step towards finding ways to help vultures.   The training on wildlife poisoning incident investigation and management thus continues, and training on bird identification and monitoring has also come into effect.  

On   the 6th of September, I attended a talk by Dr Lindy Thompson at Country Club Johannesburg.  The advertised topic was “Hug a Hoodie” and I couldn’t wait to hear more.  Lindy’s presentation on how this bird lives and the challenges it faces intentionally or unintentionally by humans and nature was fascinating and I whole heartedly  wished I could hug the Hooded Vulture after hearing it!  The event was well attended and I was very honoured to find myself surrounded by Jozi senior citizens and one of the Birds of Prey Programme associates who I had previously only met over the telephone – it was wonderful to finally meet face to face at this event. On the 3rd and 4th of September, we also attended the first African Bird Fair 2016 at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens where we put on an EWT display with a very attractive stand.

It is has been that   season of the year where vultures were breeding, both in the wild and in captivity, hence there is a lot to hear from the field workers and  a number of stories  are shared in this  edition of the Eagle’s Eye.

I would also like to encourage anyone who has interesting stories to share to please send them to me to include in our next edition of Eagle’s Eye. Enjoy the newsletter!

The latest issue of our journal, Vulture News 69 is available and copies have been distributed to subscribers. Vulture News is now available electronically on the EWT’s website. Relevant articles for Vulture News can be submitted to the editor, Campbell Murn (Campbell@hawkconservancy.org).

 
Warm Regards
 
Rebecca Mabuza
Administrator: Birds of Prey Programme
 

 

 

A View from the Programme Manager’s Perch
 

Dear Readers

This is the 40th edition since the establishment of the Eagle’s Eye in 2004, and I am fortunate to have contributed my views from the programme manager’s perspective in each edition since its inception. The aim of the electronic newsletter of the programme is to share interesting experiences and lessons learnt from the field with readers and each other rather than sharing hard scientific data. I would like to thank every EWT-BoPP staff member, associate, volunteer and supporter who contributed material to this newsletter and trust that you will continue to do so into the future.
 
Due to an exciting opportunity that came my way, it will also be my last contribution in my capacity as programme manager of the Birds of Prey Programme. In late July 2016, BirdLife International offered me the contract to take on the challenge of coordinating the drafting of a Multi-species Action Plan for African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP) for submission and ratification at the CMS Conference of the Parties in October 2017. This work will be my primary focus until the completion of the fixed contract by the end of October next year, but I will remain in the employment of the EWT and still dedicate some time towards vulture work in Africa as well as conducting and coordinating poisoning intervention training in the region.  The process to appoint a new full-time manager for the Programme has already commenced and we hope to make an announcement in this regard soon.
 
The African component of the Vulture MsAP will be discussed and drafted during the second Pan-African Vulture Summit which will be held during the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Dakar, Senegal from the 18th-21st of October 2016. At this stage we have received confirmation of more than 60 delegates that will be attending this important event that will chart the course for vulture conservation activities on the continent for the medium- to long term. In view of the current status of most of Africa’s vulture species, the effective implementation of the action plan is critical and will require the cooperation of all range states, especially at government level, but with substantial input from all relevant stakeholders.
 
The presentation of Poisoning Intervention Training in the region was indeed a primary focus of the EWT-BoPP over the last nine months and a total of 826 people have been trained during 33 training sessions covering 8 of our provinces and also extending to three other countries in southern Africa.
 
As a result of one of the training sessions at the Hans Hoheisen Wildlife Research Centre near Orpen in the Kruger National Park in February, the Kukula Traditional Healers Practitioners Association requested a meeting with the EWT to discuss the impact of muthi-use on vultures and other wildlife. This meeting took place on the 6th of July 2016 at the HHWRC and we spent almost 3 hours discussing the impact of poisons on wildlife, and vultures in particular, the potential threats to human health posed by the use of animals or animal parts acquired through poisoning as well as the legal implications of trading in such animals. This was one of the most constructive discussions I have been part of in a while. The group were keen to engage in conversation and we could frankly discuss certain actions and interventions where they can play a key role within communities to make people aware of the impact and dangers involved in some of the practises which are currently having a substantial impact on populations of vultures and other wildlife.
 
It is also likely that, following this discussion, we will be able to engage with similar bodies in the Lowveld and further a-field to discuss this important issue and to look for workable solutions and alternatives to the currently unsustainable practises that are taking place. There is simply no way for us to find a solution to this without engaging with this very important stakeholder group and, if the attitude of the KTHPA is any indication, they are keen to engage in this regard and to make a positive contribution. A positive step forward and a good day at the office overall! Thanks to the staff at Hans Hoheisen for making this possible, to SAWC for catering and to the two translators who assisted with the discussions.
 

The 30 members of the Kukula Traditional Healers Practitioners Association who attended the meeting at HHWRC in early July.

 
Prior to the above meeting, I was also able to travel to Zambia and Mozambique in June to present training at two sites there. The first of these took place at the South Luangwa National Park during the week of the 14th-19th of June 2016 and was presented to 26 members of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Conservation South Luangwa, the Zambia Carnivore Project and Birdwatch Zambia. The response to the training was very positive and will be followed by another session at South Luangwa and other identified sites in Zambia in 2017. The fact that the area is a poisoning hotspot was emphasized when rangers brought in a poisoned Grey Crowned Crane, which was found with at least 3 other birds that were already dead, on the first day of training. Despite the best efforts of the resident veterinarian, this crane also ultimately died.
 

The poisoned Grey Crowned Crane that arrived during training and one of at least 20 critically endangered Hooded Vultures that were poisoned during the incident in late May 2016.

 
On the last day of training, we were able to visit the most recent poisoning scene where 105 vultures of 4 species were killed after feeding on a poisoned elephant carcass. The animal was shot for its ivory and the carcass was then deliberately poisoned. The training received will contribute to a more rapid response to incidents of this nature in future and will reduce the impact of poisoning events on vultures and other wildlife in the area.
 
The week after returning from Zambia, saw Rebotile Rachuene and I travelling by road to present training at the Gorongosa National Park in the Sofala province in central Mozambique. Training here was presented to a much smaller group that consisted of key management staff responsible for conservation and law enforcement in the park as well as three members of the Gorongosa Lion Project. Thanks to Paola Bouley and Dr Rui Branco for making the necessary arrangements to facilitate the training and for their hospitality in general.
 
The trip was also a good opportunity to make the necessary preparations for a raptor and vulture survey that Dr Ralph Buij and I were able to conduct at Gorongosa in mid-August. Access to routes inside the park was kindly permitted by the Gorongosa management authority and we were based at the research camp for the duration of our 10-day stay. We travelled a total of 1532 km using a rented 4x4 vehicle and recorded 559 observations of 32 species of vultures, raptors and owls during 89 hours of surveys. All data was collected using the African Raptor Observations app and have been up-loaded to this database. Observations within Gorongosa National Park indicate that the area contains substantial populations of scavenging raptors such as African White-backed- and Hooded Vultures as well as Bateleurs, but the most outstanding feature of the surveys were the numerous records of White-headed Vultures of both sexes and various ages recorded during the survey.
 

The Gorongosa-area seems to be a stronghold for the critically endangered White-headed Vulture and several individuals were observed frequenting a number of feeding opportunities during the survey period.

 
 
The last two weeks of July 2016 was also focused on poisoning intervention training, this time by means of a 4500km road-trip at 5 venues in Namibia. Training started with two sessions in Windhoek, then moved to Namutoni in the Etosha National Park, then the Bwabwata National Park followed by a great session involving 44 conservation biology and animal health students and lecturers at the Katima Mulilo campus of the University of Namibia. A total of 132 people attended the 5 sessions and it was good to see the interest and enthusiasm amongst current and aspiring conservationists to work towards reducing the impact of poisoning on both wildlife and people in this part of Africa. I would like to thank Liz Komen for all the hard work and arrangements as well as travelling with to all the venues to assist with the training. It is mostly due to Liz’s tireless efforts that the need to address the impact of poisoning on Namibia’s wildlife, is starting to gain greater prominence and support from key sectors in government, agriculture and the private sector.
 

The group of students from the University of Namibia’s Katima Mulilo campus were keen participants in the training workshop presented there. The Ford Wildlife Foundation’s Ranger performed well during the 4500km road-trip through Namibia and Botswana.

 
The 3rd of September saw the celebration of the 8th International Vulture Awareness Day, an event that has become firmly established on the global conservation calendar with more than 35 countries being registered on the website www.vultureday.org/2016 and at least another 10 countries confirming participation without formally registering here. It was also wonderful to see that most southern African countries hosted more than one event on the day. I was able to participate in two events associated with IVAD, namely presenting a two-day raptor course in Hermanus in the Western Cape hosted by BirdLife Overberg on the 3rd and 4th of September and presenting a talk at the vulture fundraising evening of BirdLife Northern Gauteng on the 6th of September.
 
With summer rapidly approaching, it is also time to start looking out for the arrival of both the Intra-African- as well as Palearctic migratory raptors in the region. During our trip to Gorongosa in mid-August, both Yellow-billed Kites and Wahlberg’s Eagles were already present in fair numbers and I am sure most of the intra-African migrants would have arrived back at the breeding sites by now. However, the current extremely dry conditions over most of the summer rainfall areas may have an effect on whether these raptors decide to breed this year. All the more reason to monitor the known nests of these species in your area this season.
 
 

Both Yellow-billed Kites and Wahlberg’s Eagles have started to arrive back in southern Africa during
the last month.

 
During the second week of July, I was invited to represent the CMS Raptors MoU at the first meeting of the Task Force on the Illegal Killing of Migratory Birds in the Mediterranean which was held in Cairo, Egypt. The aim of the meeting was to draft a strategy to reduce the impact of illegal killing and taking of these birds in the region which is estimated to range between a staggering 11-36 million birds that are killed annually. Migratory raptors are by no means excluded from this killing, so please spare a thought for many of these birds who run a gauntlet of death on the southward migration to Africa across the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It was encouraging to see so many countries represented and that there are areas where appropriate interventions have already started to make a difference, but a lot more needs to be done to put an end to this practice.
 
With this, my contributions from the programme manager’s perch have reached its conclusion. However, I will still be in regular contact with many of you over the next few months and after the completion of the contract with BirdLife International and CMS. I also hope to see many of you at the EWT-BoPP annual conference in April 2017. More details in this regard will be provided to you as soon as these have been confirmed.
                                                                                   
Warm regards
 
André Botha
Manager: Birds of Prey Programme
Endangered Wildlife Trust

 

 

The Poisoning Response Kit

We are all aware that numerous training sessions on vulture poisoning around the African continent have been conducted by Andre Botha.   As a result of the training, the EWT - Birds of Prey Programme has been issuing certificates of attendance. Poison Response Kits are being prepared and will be issued to institutions that have received this training. The bags for these kits are made for us by a Limpopo-based community project and packed at the EWT.
 


Rebecca holding a poisoning kit

 
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in UK who have supported the project through thick and thin and hope that the relationship with the EWT-BoPP is forever maintained.
 
Rebecca Mabuza
Administrator-Birds of Prey Programme
 

 

 

Secretarybird NM09 re-sighted in Mpumalanga

 

On 7 June 2016 Ian Haggerty observed and photographed a patagial tagged Secretarybird on his farm, Rolspruit, near Kinross in Mpumalanga, which was reported to the BirdLife South Africa (BLSA) Secretary project.  The Secretarybird was patagial tagged with number NM09 on 23 July 2011 in a nest which contained two nestlings at the farm Klein Rust Plaats south of Bloemfontein in the Free State.  This late winter breeding was after a high rainfall season in 2011.  The bird was first resighted on 12 March 2013 near the western entrance gate at Willem Pretorius Game Reserve near Senekal by William Killian, moving a distance of 170 kilometres.  It was then observed in the Delmas area, Mpumalanga during winter 2014 and a Facebook message was posted on the BLSA site.  Ian’s sighting is the third resighting of this individual Secretarybird, giving a lapsed period of four years and nearly 11 months (or five years if the two months in nest are also considered) and a distance moved from ringing location of 440 kilometres. This resighting represents the oldest longevity record for a ringed Secretarybird (the previous record was three years and four months). Thanks to Ian Haggerty for reporting this sighting.

 

 
Secretarybird NM09 re-sighted in Mpumalanga;  Photo by Ian Haggerty.


 
Dawie de Swardt
National Museum, Bloemfontein
 

 

 

The caring owl project

 

 In 2007 a young male Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo Africanus) showed up on the farm, Elandskloof, of Chris Pretorius near Grahamstown.  It soon became evident that this owl was reared by humans as it could not fend for itself. It only wanted to eat steak and did not know that owls were supposed to eat things like rodents and birds etc. Chris took Uiltjie, as he called the owl, under his wing and taught him to eat mice and rats and real owl food, and also how to hunt for it. The owl was completely imprinted on humans and believed that Chris was his mate and began bringing him food. Uiltjie did not only take Chris as his mate, but also adopted his whole family, including their elderly cat! He became famous after pictures of him bringing a mouse and a rat to Chris’s wife in bed, and trying to feed a rat to their cat, were posted on Deane Lewis’s “The Owl Pages” under the title “The Caring Owl”.  Despite the fact that all experts were of the opinion that Uiltjie was so imprinted on humans that he would never take a real owl as a mate, Chris believed otherwise and made it his mission in life to get Uiltjie to realise that he was not a human, but a real owl and to take a female and lead a normal owl life.

 

Chris began exposing Uiltjie to real owls by taking in orphaned owlets and injured owls. He soon realised that Uiltjie would adopt any bird, big or small, if it was kept in what he later began calling his “Owl Room”. Over the next couple of years Uiltjie adopted and reared 34 orphaned owlets and even taught them how to hunt. Chris hoped that Uiltjie’s” instinct would one day kick in and that he would take one of the little orphans that he reared, as a mate, but Uiltjie remained true to his first love, his human mate and friend, Chris. In the season of 2014/2015 Uiltjie became the proud stepfather of 10 orphaned owlets. The first five owlets arrived early in August 2014 and the second batch came in around December 2014. Uiltjie reared these owlets with the help of a blind owl called Tokkelosh. Although Tokkelosh was a male, he adopted the role of the female, while Uiltjie played father to the young owlets. As is the custom with owls, Uiltjie chased the orphans out of his territory as soon as they were old enough to fend for themselves. One of them, a large female, however refused to be chased away and Chris hoped that she would trigger Uiltjie’s instincts. A couple of weeks later Uiltjie and this female disappeared. A month later Uiltjie showed up on the farm again for a few hours and then left again. Chris was sure that he had taken the female as a mate and that they were breeding somewhere. Uiltjie showed up twice more and then, for a year and three months there was no sign of him. Last year Uiltjie returned and he brought a female with him. It was however not the young orphan, but a wild female that had been treated for a broken leg. Chris had rehabilitated her and released her a couple of days before Uiltjie’s disappearance. Chris put up a nest box for them in the garden and they moved in. The female laid two eggs recently and is currently incubating them, with a very proud Uiltjie keeping a watchful eye over her and the nest.

 

 
Uiltjie and Woody and the nest

 
Uiltjie's female, Woody, at the nest

 

The life of this owl inspired Chris to begin what he calls “The Caring Owl Project.” The main objective of this project is to reach out to schools and organisations and educate them about the vital role that owls play in controlling rodents in an effective and natural way without the use of harmful rodenticides. With this program he also hopes to break the stigma clinging to owls of being harbingers of death and doom and to hopefully stop the unnecessary killing of owls because of this belief as well as for tribal medicine purposes. The project will be conducted over a period of five years in which period Chris intends doing educational talks to schools all over the country. During these talks some schools will be identified to take part in an owl release and research program. Barn Owls have been chosen for the first stage of the project as they are prolific breeders and easily take to a nest box. Each nest box will be equipped with a nest cam and the students will assist in collecting valuable data regarding their breeding, hunting and behaviour patterns. Although Chris will mainly concentrate on schools and organisations in the Eastern Cape, he hopes that some of the reputed rehabilitation centres in other provinces will join him in this project to make it the largest project of its kind ever to be conducted in South Africa. “I know that extensive research has been done on Barn Owls, but research is an ongoing thing and the main objective of this project is to get schools actively involved in the rehabilitation of owls and the collection of data” he said. In doing this he hopes to create a culture of understanding and appreciation for these silent hunters of the night.

Anyone that is interested or wants to know more about this project can contact Chris at chris@thecaringowl.co.za or can call him at 072 743 3595 or you can visit his website here http://www.thecaringowl.co.za/ for more information regarding the project.

 

 

Baboons and Verreaux’s Eagles
 

On a late afternoon in September, near Matjiesfontein, I was at a small cliff along a dry river bed, where a Verreaux’s Eagle pair has their nest. The adults were nowhere to be seen and I was trying to establish whether they had a chick in the nest. I heard the intermittent barking of baboons and in the distance saw a couple of adults walking along the top of the ridge. As the minutes ticked by I noticed their numbers swelling to a large group consisting mainly of females with lots and lots of youngsters of various ages. It was good to see such a healthy troop, but I was wondering what this presaged for the nest.

Reflecting on probable outcomes, I recalled previous interactions between baboons and Verreaux’s Eagles. At a cliff overlooking the coastal hamlet of Rooiels, Dirk de Kock recorded in great detail how the adult pair successfully chased off a large male baboon, intent upon climbing up to the nest. In tandem they swooped down on the baboon, the first eagle drawing his attention away from the second eagle that raked the baboon with its claws.        
 

Baviaans

 
Some years later at a nest cliff near Beaufort West, on a late afternoon in April, I was looking for Verreaux’s Eagles and instead I found a large troop of baboons on the cliff. It seemed they were after the prickly pears on the many cacti that were growing on the cliff. This pair of eagles had several nests of various sizes placed at intervals of a few meters apart along a horizontal ledge. The baboons were literally jumping from one nest onto the other as they made their way along the ledge, picking and discarding fruit as they went. Shortly after they had moved into a shallow ravine next to the cliff, the two adult Verreaux’s Eagles flew in and perched near the top of the cliff. Both parties kept their distance and the baboons moved further away from the cliff after the eagles arrived. I didn’t think there would be much chance of the eagles breeding successfully on a cliff that seemed to be overrun by baboons, but against all expectation they successfully raised a chick to fledging that year and the following year.

My attention was drawn back to the cliff I was presently at, by the arrival of the two Verreaux’s Eagles. They both landed in a bush at the top left hand corner of the cliff. Here they sat for a while, looking perfectly relaxed and keeping an eye on the approaching baboons.  As generally seems to be the case, the advance of the troop was headed by one or two mature males and these reached the bush first. The female Verreaux’s Eagle responded by raising herself into a more upright position, holding out her wings, beak opened wide. I was too far away to hear any sound, but I could imagine hissing!                                                                                                

It halted the baboon males in their tracks; the one closest to the bush ducked under it and sat down, while the other back tracked a bit and dropped down lower. Immediately the male Verreaux’s Eagle flew off the bush and down to a second perch, mid cliff lower down. It took a while for me to understand why he did this, but it became clear as the minutes ticked by that the female's role up top, was to halt the progress of the baboons across the ridge of the cliff towards the corner on the right, below which they had their nest.The male's role was to prevent any baboons from crossing to the right as they descended the cliff and he did this admirably by executing brief sorties flying at any straying baboons.

In this way the resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles managed to herd a troop of 50+ baboons down the left hand side of the cliff. It was a protracted process because the baboons, in particular the younger ones, could not resist leaping about the cliff in circles, as opposed to moving down in an orderly fashion. The older ones were spread out between the younger ones and whenever the male Verreaux’s Eagle swooped down to keep them moving, they all ducked under whatever cover the cliff presented, which slowed down their progress. I left just before it grew too dark to see the cliff. By then I had probably been watching this event for 45 minutes and all the baboons, bar one male that was still stuck below a bush near the bottom, had made their way down the cliff.                                                                                                                 


Driving back and reflecting upon what I had witnessed, I came to the conclusion that this is probably a fairly regular event for this resident pair to deal with. They were so slick and dealt with this troop's advancement with such finesse that they must have done this before.      
 
Lucia Rodrigues
Western Cape Black Eagle Project

 

 

Tracking Kimberley’s Secretarybird – Squeak from Rooifontein

 

Secretarybirds, which are featured on the South African coat of arms, are in trouble because their numbers have declined drastically in the past 10 years and no-one is quite sure why.  The only ground species of eagle, they were once widespread throughout Southern Africa but are now, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red Data List, facing a 'high risk of extinction in the wild'. Internationally the species is now Globally Vulnerable.

Regrettably, the Northern Cape has been indicated as one of the major areas in which their numbers have declined dramatically outside protected areas in recent history. But this situation is similar throughout the species’ distribution in Africa.

In light of this, there is a national project underway to fit young birds with tracking devices (either satellite or GSM models) to monitor their movements.  These devices are small backpack-type harnesses which are fitted to the bird with Teflon straps that are designed to perish in the sun and drop off eventually. The devices track and monitor daily movements and provide life history information about post-fledging dispersal, spatial use and the impact of land-use changes on the species for as long as the device remains operational and attached to the bird. This exercise will form part of a much broader study of the species in the Kalahari and Savanna biome that will later enable researchers to consider effective and workable conservation measures to benefit the species, and also to identify key potential threats to this species in South Africa.

In October 2014, the monitoring of the first of three Secretarybird nests at different locations close to Kimberley began intensively. Mid-January 2015, at roughly 60-days old, two chicks (Pip on Dronfield Private Nature Reserve and Squeak on Rooifontein Nature Reserve) were both fitted with GSM devices sponsored by the Andre Botha, Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. These devices make use of cellular technology using a solar-powered battery. Data is transmitted via the cellphone networks. If the bird is not in range of cellphone reception at any time then the data will be stored on the device and downloaded the next time the bird is in a reception area.
 

 
All of Squeak’s travel from Feb 2016 until June 2016


By logging onto a dedicated webpage it is possible to track the birds in real-time.  Both chicks fledged early in February, and remained in the vicinity of their respective nests and parents for about six weeks, only making tentative forays away from home base. On 10 March Pip’s transmitter abruptly stopped transmitting.  A search in the area of the last-known locality did not reveal a body or feathers and it is suspected that the device malfunctioned rather than something tragic happening to the young bird. However, Squeak’s transmitter continued to function well and it has allowed us to view the bird’s travels in a north-easterly direction. The device transmitted intermittently but in September appeared to stop functioning altogether. At this time, the bird was in the vicinity of Kroonstad and Welkom and it was not possible to ground-truth what had happened to the bird. 
 


Squeak after being fitted with his tracking device


 Then, early in 2016, the device suddenly started downloading data. It now appears that the bird was outside of signal range for a time. After settling just south of Vredefort for several months, at the end of 2015 Squeak made a quick foray back to an area south-west of Welkom where he had spent some time previously on his trip northwards. Deciding it was not to his liking, he returned to Vredefort. But the travel bug had bitten him and on 3 January 2016 Squeak began a far more decisive trip homewards, once again stopping briefly west of Bultfontein where he also spent a month last year. After passing through Kimberley at the beginning of February, Squeak finally settled in the area just west of Petrusburg and is still present in the area.  At the beginning of May, the bird was located on the ground residing in an area that appears to have received good rain recently and is nearly optimal for the species. With the farmer’s permission, Squeak will continue to be monitored visually on a monthly basis even though his transmitting device indicates that it is functioning well and the solar-powered battery strength is still good.
 
Beryl Wilson
Zoologist, McGregor Museum, Kimberley

 

 

Saving the Cape Vulture, Delta

 

While doing a power line incident investigation on the farm Delta in the Smithfield district, the farmer, Johan Hattingh, and I found an injured vulture under the line.  When we tried to capture the vulture, it ran away from us, heading downhill but I covered it with my jacket and took it back to the bakkie.  On my way to Reddersburg, I picked up a ground squirrel road kill and gave it to the vulture.  I stopped near the butchery at Reddersburg to see if the vulture was still fine and saw that it had eaten the whole squirrel, so I bought half a kilo of mince at the butcher and fed that to the bird as well.  He was so hungry and gulped the meat down – I just had to call the butcher to come and see! 

 


Delta at Vulpro, picture by Kerri Wolter

 

In the meantime Megan Murison and Matt Pretorius of the Wildlife and Energy Programme at EWT were on their way to Bloemfontein to fetch the vulture and take it to Kerri Wolter at VulPro.  Despite a serious downpour, which had set in on their arrival and created a bit of a challenge, we managed to move the bird from one vehicle to the other, under the watchful eye of a number of spectators!

Then the long journey to VulPro started. The bird arrived at VulPro at midnight and Kerri was waiting for it.  It probably has a nerve injury and is undergoing intensive physiotherapy.  It is hoped that with time it will improve further and will be released back into the wild.  We called the bird Delta, after the farm where it was found.

This is such a wonderful story of good collaboration to help safe a Cape Vulture!
 
Ronelle Visagie
Project Co-ordinator: Platberg Karoo Raptor

 

 

 

New research highlights threats to the long-term survival of the endangered African Grass-Owl

 

In the past three months, the monitoring of the African Grass-Owl has continued as part of the long-term goal of the Anglo African Grass-Owl Project run by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and sponsored by Anglo Inyosi Coal Mine. A number of challenges were encountered during this time around the Grass-Owl life-cycle – most notably risks from predation and fire! The Anglo African Grass-Owl project is dedicated and aimed at keeping an eye on the Grass-Owl nests and population to ensure the survival of the species is not compromised.

During the breeding season this year we confirmed two active nest sites, one in Mpumalanga, in the Kriel area, and another in Gauteng at Elandsfontein. Both the nests are within areas that we know are safe and well managed, and that play a crucial role in the conservation of this species. These nests were found with eggs at the time of discovery [early February 2016]. Sadly, during my next visit to the nests, I found both sets of them destroyed, with the egg shells broken around the nest entrance and spider webs already built within the nest, (figure 01: Destroyed nest)
 
This led me to believe that the nest had been destroyed due to a particular threat– predation. The egg shells on both nests were cut in half, and one had a finger-sized hole in it. In the past we have seen predators such as Caracal around some of the nesting sites, so such an animal could have been responsible for the predation of the eggs. The owl pairs, during the second site visit, were not seen or found anywhere close by, suggesting that they could have moved somewhere else.

Besides predation, fire seems to be another factor challenging the survival of the species. At least five known nesting patches were surveyed during April/May in Mpumalanga province. These patches were known to be active in the 2014/15 breeding season. During this year’s survey, one patch from the Chrissiesmeer area was found to be burnt, probably last season as the grass is still very short. From another patch in the Chrissiesmeer area, two Grass-Owl individuals were found but no actively breeding nest site was found. The two patches were in the Kriel area, where only Marshal Owls were found, but no Grass-Owls.

The last site that was visited showed evidence of a successful nesting site evident by the down feathers scattered around the area, the egg shells in the nest, the contour feathers as well, and the flat-grounded grass around the nest with tunnels. To add to this successful breeding site, we have another successful nest for this breeding season from Gauteng province, in Midrand area, giving us two successful nests so far.
 


AGO movement until September 2015


In Gauteng, we are lucky and excited to have re-sighted a GPS-tagged female Grass-Owl which is also on chicks at the moment. The female was tagged last season in April 2015, and now the data from her is being processed to see movements, and over 1000 data points have been captured for a period of 12 months. The project is still continuing as we entering the winter season and end of breeding period of the Grass-Owl.
 
Rebotile Rachuene
Field Officer- African Grass Owl Project

 

 

The effect of bush encroachment on Impala carcass detection by African White-backed Vultures and other scavengers.

 

Whilst completing my experiential training year for my Nature Conservation diploma in 2014, I had the privilege of observing a wide variety of raptors on a daily basis. One particular species that caught my interest was the African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africana) (AWbV), who are prolific breeders in the area. Over the year, many hours were spent observing these vultures on their nests, squabbling at carcasses and making brief aerial appearances overhead, whilst searching. After the practical year was complete, I had the opportunity to conduct a vulture research project supervised by Gerard Malan, as part of my B-Tech degree. Pidwa Wilderness Reserve kindly provided me with a 2000 ha study site, accommodation and Impala carcasses for the scavenging tests. Pidwa is located in the Gravelotte area of Limpopo, and from January 2016 the project was set to commence.

The aim of the project was to determine how bush encroachment affects the AWbV’s ability to locate impala carcasses. In order to test how bush encroachment effects the vultures, an Impala carcass was placed out in areas with varying tree densities and canopy cover. Camera traps provided by the Tshwane University of Technology and André Botha (Endangered Wildlife Trust), were set up around the carcass to record the species order of arrival and time taken to locate each carcass.   
 


Camera traps were positioned around the impala carcass, which in this case was located in 3h 15min and devoured in just less than 8 minutes.

 
The first test was a great success. The Impala carcass was located in 3h 58min by the AWbVs, who were closely followed by the Cape Griffons (Gyps coprotheres). Later that evening, a Brown Hyena (Hyaena brunnea) located the remains of the carcass and cleared up the area. The tests began to roll on, day by day, with the first day dedicated to surveying the vegetation and the second day for carcass placement. Vegetation surveys encompassed capturing pictures of canopy cover (which were later analysed by image software); measuring tree height and recording tree density within an 8x8 m quadrate.
 


An analysed image of the canopy cover above a carcass, subsequently located by a Bateleur.

 
Carcass placement turned out to be the more strenuous and prickly of the two activities, as large Impala (Aepyceros melampus) rams can weigh up to 60 kg and involved wheelbarrowing the carcass some 300 m, whilst trying to dodge through the thickets of sickle bush. A carcass was placed 90 minutes after sunrise on a carcass placement day. To ensure that the carcass would be completely finished when located by vultures, I cut down one flank of the impala before placing the carcass with its uncut flank side up.
Mid-way through my field work, I headed off to Skukuza in Kruger National Park for the bi-annual Learn About Birds conference run by BirdLife South Africa. I presented my first scientific poster and listened to many brilliant presentations given by some of the top ornithologists and raptor managers in the country. It was an amazing experience and I arrived back to my project feeling more energetic about vulture research than ever before!

By the end of the field work, 27 carcass tests were completed. AWbVs located 10 carcasses first, Brown Hyena found eight and Bateleur found three. The remainder of carcasses were located by Leopard (Panthera pardus), African Civet (Civettictis civetta), Tawny Eagle and Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas). The average time to locate a carcass was 630 minutes after carcass placement. We determined that 20 trees per 100 m2 is the optimal tree density for all foraging avian scavenging species.
 


African White-backed Vultures outnumber the Cape Griffons at this and all other carcases
located by vultures.

 
During the field work, there were a few interesting behavioural observations made which left me asking many questions.

Observation 1: Brown Hyena tear up carcasses into movable pieces (akin to leg size). These pieces are either taken down into a den or placed in the close vicinity of the den to eat later. On occasion, carcass pieces were moved from an area of high vegetation density to an area of low vegetation density. Therefore, this could increase the likelihood for aerial scavengers to locate and consume food from the carcass.
 


This hind leg was removed from the carcass by Brown Hyena and move 350 m from the
original carcass position. It lay in an area of low vegetation density, which was a stark contrast
from the original position.


Observation 2: One of the carcasses was first located by a Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus), however, it could not feed sufficiently on the carcass as it could not penetrate the skin. During the night a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) located the carcass and moved it 10m away. The carcass was ripped apart and partially eaten. The following day two Bateleurs and a Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax) fed on the carcass with ease. Without the aid of large predators and vultures, large carcasses may not be accessible to the smaller scavenging eagles.

 

 
A Brown Hyena located and removed the carcass first. 

 


The remains of a carcass that was partially eaten in the night by a Spotted Hyena.
Three Bateleur and a Tawny Eagle fed with ease in the morning. 


Observation 3: A single Tawny Eagle fed on the open neck area of the Impala carcass for an hour until it was full. During this time a few pictures showed the eagle mantling the carcass as if another eagle was present. Upon finishing, the eagle walked away and a 2nd Tawny Eagle walked in to feed one minute later. This eagle fed for 10 minutes until a juvenile Bateleur then walked up to the Tawny Eagle and threat displayed, to which the Tawny Eagle stepped back and left the carcass to the JV. Bateleur. Could JV Bateleurs be dominant over Tawny Eagles at a carcass?

Observation 4: The number of Hooded Vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) (HV) that arrived at the test sites was below expected. During the 2014 and 2015 year, an average of about seven HV arrived to feed at a carcass on the reserve. The maximum number of HV at an Impala carcass in the 2016 year was five, with an average of about two HV per carcass. I am unsure why the number of HVs arriving at carcasses is lower in the area; however, Dr. Lindy Thompson is currently investigating the HV movement ecology via her K2C Hooded Vulture Project.

Observation 5: Lappet-faced Vulture (LfV) arrived at only half the carcasses that were found by AWbV. LfV always arrived towards the end of the feeding, when the carcass was almost complete. Not until three LfV were present, did they seem to control the carcass area to pick at the scraps. 

My field work has come to an end now, and I am currently in the write-up and statistical analysis phase of the project. I have left the stunning Lowveld of Limpopo, and will be moving down to Cape Town to join Andrew Jenkins and his AVISENSE avian research and consulting team. For more information and questions, please contact me at kyle.sandy.walker@gmail.com   
 
Kyle S. Walker

 

 

Raptor "balchatri" ringing training in the Strydenburg area, Northern Cape
 

Jaco Smith and I, of the National Museum in Bloemfontein (Jaco is the site manager of the Florisbad Quarterny research Station near Soutpan), joined Ronelle Visagie of the EWT Platberg Karoo Raptor project at Strydenburg in the Northern Cape from 19 - 23 June 2016. We are (of course) members of Birds of Prey Working Group and also active ringers.  Jaco was keen to do raptor ringing in the Florisbad area and this was an opportunity for me to obtain some training as well.  My last raptor trapping excursion was with the late Tony Harris of Transvaal Museum (now Ditsong Museum) when I was still a bird ringing trainee in 1986.
 

 
Dawie holding up a Chanting Goshawk
 

The weather forecast for the Monday was not as cold as expected and the first few Pale Chanting Goshawks near the Dwaalhoek farm were not really interested in the balchatri, but we were later successful with three Greater Kestrels and a Jackal Buzzard near the Kraankuil station.  It was a short trip and Jaco did some spring trap ringing and I did some SABAP2 atlassing near the house.  The next day we took a longer route towards De Aar and Richmond and were lucky with one Jackal Buzzard, two Rock Kestrels, another Greater Kestrel and our first Pale Chanting Goshawk.  On the Wednesday we travelled in the direction of Prieska and moving back to Strydenburg and Hopetown areas.  This was our Pale Chanting Goshawk day and we managed to catch four individuals. On our last day we surveyed towards Petrusville and this was also one of the best days - three Jackal Buzzards and two Pale Chanting Goshawks on the trap (and a Tawny Eagle circling above us).  We ringed (under Ronelle's supervision) 22 raptors of four species. We travelled a total distance of 930 kilometres in the Strydenburg - De Aar - Prieska areas (some stretches of gravel roads without any available perches). We also did SABAP2 bird mapping (while Ronelle was counting raptors and crows with Cybertracker), completing a total of nine full protocol and 74 ad hoc SABAP2 lists.

 
 
Ronelle giving assistance in ringing a raptor

 
 

Our SAFRING authority cards are now also updated and we are now permitted to catch and ring raptors with this technique.  Thanks to Ronelle for accommodating us and spending four days on the road doing raptor training, and to.  Andre Botha for allowing Ronelle to use her time and give us the necessary training to catch and ring raptors.

 

Dawie de Swardt & Jaco Smith

National Museum, Bloemfontein
 

 

 

Death in the bush

The Hooded Vulture Project team is currently monitoring camera traps in ten nests, and checks on these once a month, changing batteries and memory cards at the same time as well. One of our nearest nest sites is located at the bottom of the reserve where both Lindy and I live, which meant that when it was time for our monthly visit we had a lovely late morning start at 8am. One particular day began as any other fieldwork day, with us trekking with our large rucksacks strapped to our backs like tortoise shells, and the usual inelegant scrambling across rocks and jumping over streams. That day, however, as we neared the nest, I could smell something – something from my past. Having worked as a small carnivore keeper for nearly four years, my nose was finely tuned to all sorts of animal smells, the smells of animal scents, fresh bedding, soiled bedding, fresh meat, poo and pee, and the one you never forget – the smell of death. And that's what I was smelling right then, a carcass.

As we neared the nesting tree, we scanned our surroundings, then quickly and quietly attached the climbing ropes. As Lindy ascended, I tidied up the excess rope, tied on the memory cord we leave up the tree and quickly checked the ground for any feathers. Once my assistant’s duties were done, I eagerly followed my nose to find what had died. I’d never been so excited searching for a dead animal before. What was it? How had it died? How much of it had been munched?

About 100m from our vulture tree I found the source of the smell. It was an adult male waterbuck, freshly dead (there were relatively few flies on the body) and it had only been slightly nibbled around the genitals. I looked around but couldn’t see anything lurking about, but that's not to say that there wasn't anything, though. There didn’t seem to be any marks on the body apart from some old sparring scars. With the drought and severe lack of vegetation to eat, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see a starved antelope, but this guy looked in good health. Well, with the exception of being dead, of course. A stark realisation hit us that we may have accidentally scared a leopard off its kill, so we finished up at the nest and scampered back up to our cottages.

The corpse was the perfect opportunity to see who opens carcasses and how the hoodies behaved around other scavengers. So, after a couple of hours we returned with a pair of camera traps and attached them to a tree overlooking the waterbuck. Just above the animal there was a slight gap in the tree canopy, and we hoped it was big enough to allow passing vultures to spot the body. We would have to wait and see.

 


Croc in buck

 

After two weeks we returned and unfortunately not much had changed. The cameras showed that no other vultures had found the delicious offering, and our hoodies’ poor slender beaks (which are more suited to scraping meat scraps off the bone rather than tearing flesh open) had made no impact on the corpse – although they had pecked out one juicy eyeball. The carcass had also been visited by a nosey genet, a pair of leopards (they didn’t eat anything as cats have standards), an otter and some monster crocodiles. It was these massive reptiles that had managed to enter the carcass via the soft inner thigh. With some body rolling and lifting with their snouts they had had a good munch.

 


Hoodie on buck


Upon discovering so much of the waterbuck was left I decided to open it up with my knife before it went rancid; I do hate to see food go to waste! The location in which the animal had died wasn’t great. It was in a dip with high banks so the smell, which wasn’t all that strong, could only be picked up within 100 feet or so if you were in the dip. Hopefully, by opening it up all the juicy smells would waft out and attract some more diners.

 


Hyena


When we eventually returned for the cameras there was no sign of the carcass, not a bone in sight, barely any fur, only a small stinky patch of earth to show where it had lain. The cameras revealed that another leopard had approached the body but (once again) did not take a bite, an African civet had taken a sniff and a clan of hyenas had had a party. The group seemed small, with only three individuals in the frame at any one time, but they took just two nights to devour the entire thing. It was no surprise that the hyenas had cleaned up, but it was impressive that they had gotten to the carcass at all, seeing that it was on an island in the middle of a river. True, the water levels were very low, but they aren’t the most agile of creatures so this was quite a feat.

Due to the fantastic selection of animals that had already shown up on the cameras, I decided to re-position them in different areas overlooking the river to see what else called this place home.

 

 Fiona Fern

 

 

NEWSLETTER INFORMATION


The Eagle’s Eye is the quarterly newsletter of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme and is compiled and edited by Rebeccca Mabuza.
For enquiries, to submit an article or to unsubscribe, e-mail rebeccam@ewt.org.za
The articles in this newsletter represent various projects and individuals involved with the Birds of Prey Programme and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Endangered Wildlife Trust or the editor of this
newsletter.

The Birds of Prey Programme would like to thank all our sponsors for their ongoing
support of the work done by our various Projects.

 

 

 

 


Our mailing address is:

Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Copyright 2014 - Endangered Wildlife Trust. All rights reserved.
Physical Address: Building K2, Ardeer Road, Pinelands Office Park,
Modderfontein 1609, Gauteng, South Africa,
Postal Address: Private Bag X 11, Modderfontein 1645, Gauteng, South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 11 372 3600 Fax: +27 (0) 11 608 4682 
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list