The Vulture Programme in collaboration with the Johannesburg Zoo is proud to announce the hatching of their first captive bred Cape Vulture chick which hatched on 1 September 2011, this chick is unique in that the method used to successfully breed this chick is the first for the species in South Africa, as well as the first chick destined for Namibia as part of our Namibian Cape Vulture Recovery Plan.
The egg was laid on 11 July 2011 on an artificial breeding cliff inside an enclosure at the Vulture Programme’s Vulture Centre near Hartbeespoort Dam. The egg was then transferred to an incubator where it was artificially incubated for 54 days. During this time, the parents were given a dummy egg to continue incubating. On 30 August the chick was heard inside the egg’s air-space and the next day the chick was assisted throughout its hatching process in order to safe guard and guarantee its survival during this stressful period.
At 15:00 on 1 September, the chick was taken to its natural parents and swapped with the dummy egg using a specially made plastic egg shell from which the parents could easily ‘hatch’ the chick. The parents immediately heard the chick inside the artificial egg shell and assisted it to hatch again after which they carefully and proudly inspected their offspring and started brooding. Our breeding and swapping attempt proved to be successful and fourteen days later, the chick has doubled in size and the parents are quite comfortable allowing us to watch their feeding regime.
This technique allows us to produce parent reared ‘wild’ chicks that are suitable for release into their natural environment, as opposed to hand raised chicks which can be human imprinted, while eliminating many of the dangers of natural incubation and hatching. Cape Vultures are colonial birds, but will mate for life, carefully choosing their ‘soul-mate’ from a large group. In captivity, they may not meet a suitable mate, thus for successful breeding, several birds need to be housed together to allow them to make their own partner selection.
The Namibian Recovery Plan is focused on preventing the extinction of the species in Namibia where they are now extinct as a breeding species. The intention of the plan is to undertake ex-situ breeding of Cape Vultures with the goal to reintroduce these vultures back into existing home ranges in Namibia with the purpose of stabilising the remaining wild population. The ultimate goal being to increase the individual number of Cape Vultures to the point of natural breeding once again on Namibia’s Waterberg Plateau.
The Cape Vulture is southern Africa’s only endemic vulture species and is listed as critically endangered in Namibia with approximately 12 wild Cape Vultures left in the country.
South Africa has the largest population of breeding Cape Vultures, however still listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (2000) with an estimated 2400 breeding pairs in the wild (Vulture Programme unpublished data 2011). In view of the few remaining Cape Vultures left in Namibia, unless the mitigation of identified threats is undertaken, in addition to a captive breeding and reintroduction programme, the species will be lost to Namibia and only a few vagrant Cape Vultures from South Africa will be seen visiting some of the natural and historical foraging sites.
Vulture species across the globe are facing similar threats with the Cape Vulture being no exception, resulting in a continuous downward spiral throughout much of their range. Human activities have had the largest impact on vultures throughout the world.
Power line electrocutions and collisions together with inadvertent poisoning remain two of the greatest threats that vultures as well as other birds of prey are facing in southern Africa. Disturbance at nesting and roosting sites contributes to a loss of suitable nesting/roosting habitat for vultures. Human population expansion continues to claim large areas of wilderness, which will eventually be lost to vulture populations. Development in wilderness areas for eco-resorts is a cause of great concern as these areas are often branded as ‘eco-friendly’ however, impacts are often as serious as many agricultural developments. Climate change could possibly have an impact on the birds breeding behaviour, a threat that requires further focused research to understand its potential impact on the species. In Namibia, mismanagement of some farmlands has led to severe bush encroachment over large areas, and recent research has indicated that this also has an adverse effect on the vulture’s ability to find food.