FARMERS FOR VULTURES

Dr Gareth Tate, Manager, EWT Birds of Prey Programme

GarethT@ewt.org.za

Many of us view the Karoo as one of the last conservation frontiers of South Africa. Vast, wild landscapes that boast rugged mountain ranges, dry riverbeds and wide-open spaces that have stood relatively undisturbed and untransformed for centuries. It is also home to an extraordinary array of large birds of prey, including Verreaux’s Eagles, Martial Eagles as well as White-backed and Cape Vultures. In many areas however, vultures have disappeared from large tracts of the Karoo landscape. Although a variety of threats occur across the Karoo, vultures’ most pertinent threat is indirect poisoning, whereby they become the unintended victims of poisons left out to exterminate predators that may feed on livestock.

It is here, within South Africa’s arid heart, that the EWT’s Birds of Prey Programme has been incubating and hatching a conservation initiative to make the Great Karoo a safer place for these birds, and other wildlife, to live and thrive. At the project’s core, are the Karoo farmers themselves. A new wave of farmers that are driven to correct the mistakes of their forefathers. The farmers have teamed up with the EWT, as well as SANParks, the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) and the SANParks Honorary Rangers, to create a Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) in the Great Karoo. The Karoo VSZ spans across approximately 23,000 square kilometres in and around three major protected areas: namely the Karoo, Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks as well as the MZCPE. Over ninety percent of this area is privately owned. We have a unique opportunity to work with landowners to achieve the project’s long-term goal, which is to encourage Cape Vultures back to their historical ranges throughout the Great Karoo, and ultimately recover this population through the establishment of a VSZ that connects key protected areas. Importantly, Cape Vultures function as flagships for the conservation of many other species, and by removing their key threats, we also benefit other wildlife within our Vulture Safe Zone.

During the first phase, the project team will conduct an assessment of current threats in cooperation with over 400 farmers, game breeders and private reserves in the area. Working actively with committed landowners, the threats will be addressed in the second phase. The Karoo VSZ Initiative can be regarded as one of the largest conservation initiatives with farmers partnering with conservation organisations like the EWT, SANParks, SANParks Honorary Rangers, and the MZCPE.

This work is made possible by Rupert Nature Foundation, Rand Merchant Bank, Puy du Fou, Charl van der Merwe Trust, and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.