Thursday, 20 March 2014

Long haul Cape Vultures

Cape Vulture

This morning I loaded my two injured vultures and my heart was loaded with them. They are heading for VULPRO near the Hartebeespoort dam area in the North West province. These two guys will get there in a very different way, by means of a DHL long haul truck.

Recently in my one blog I told you about the vulture I had to collect in Cookhouse area from Mr Raubenheimer. 

Misty morning at the top of Stubb's Hill

Last week I got a call via Department Nature Conservation, of another injured vulture near Bedford area. I arranged to meet Noel Ross just outside Bedford fairly early in the morning. I left just after 6.30 in the mist and headed down Stubb’s hill also in the mist.

The Katberg mountains hidden in the mist

My trip to Bedford takes me down one of the pretty passes of the Eastern Cape, with the Katberg mountain range on your right and the Elandsberg range on your left. 

The view from the Nico Malan pass

This pass is called the Nico Malan pass and during the winter months is often closed when heavy snow falls occur. By the time I had reached the pass the mist had lifted and one can only marvel at the magnificent vistas one is subjected to when driving down the pass.


Just before Fort Beaufort one turns right and drives in the direction of Adelaide/Bedford. The Winterberg mountain range and next step up onto the escarpment is on your right. Bedford is not far from Adelaide and is a quaint little town with the mountains that have ‘crept’ closer to the town.

Noel and I meet just outside Bedford on the Patryshoogte road – wonder why it has this name? Possibly there were many Francolins in that area in the earlier days and more than likely the Grey-winged Francolin. Sadly these little guys have declined somewhat due to pressure from development as well as possibly over utilization from hunters. Noel hands me a very sad looking Cape vulture, with a horribly fractured wing (bone exposed). He informs me that he found her up on the mountains and believes she had collided with the power lines at least five days ago. My heart is sore as this is the second Cape vulture that I have collected (within a month) that will never fly free again. He also tells me that he was so happy to see a group of 96 vultures foraging on his property but sadly has found at least four dead birds under those power lines in the past six years. In discussion we discovered that he had previously brought a sick vulture to me originating from their farm. That bird I was able to re-release.

With a heavy heart I left Bedford to head for home. A stop at Baddaford Farm stall just outside Fort Beaufort where they sell wonderful farm produce was necessary. The road was relatively quiet and I wondered what was going through the vulture’s mind. She had flown over this mountain range with her 2.5m wide wingspan with ease, only to collide with a line that would change the destiny of her whole life. She was no longer a free wild bird! 

permanently damaged wing

Cape vultures keeping each other company

On reaching home, I powdered her to rid her of the bird lice that had already attacked her due to her condition and injected her with Vitamin B to help boost her system. The break in the wing was not good and must be amputated to prevent infection and to facilitate her movement. One good thing was that she had company – the vulture I had collected from Cookhouse. They soon settled down together and sat next to each other preening themselves. 

The tansport vehicle to Port Elizabeth
Now this is where 
the long haul story enters the picture. Kerri Wolter at VULPRO in the North West province, takes all the permanently damage Cape vultures as she runs a successful breeding programme. 

The only way we can get the vultures up north is due to a very good understanding that VULPRO has with DHL freight transport. On Monday Kerri delivered two vulture transport crates to the depot in Pretoria and that was trucked down to Port Elizabeth. Peter van Wyk of DHL in Port Elizabeth then instructs Martin Ras to come and collect the birds from me at Rookwood.

Martin Ras, myself and Colin Loots

Martin together with Colin arrived just after 10.00 this morning and we then load the two birds.  The one with the badly damaged wing we had to ‘trim’ slightly to make it a comfortable fit. 

Ready to load for their long trip

Colin securing the transport crates

Loaded and ready for their 18 hour trip

They then embark on their four hour journey back to Port Elizabeth


It is from then onwards, I feel like I have put my child on the road for the first time and will only feel happy when I know they are safely in Kerri’s hands. Truck 610 was assigned to transport them to Pretoria. They left Port Elizabeth at 17h00 that evening and throughout the following morning Martin keeps me posted as to the progress of the truck.

This time the truck made good progress and they reach the Pretoria depot just before 14h00 on Friday, early afternoon. Kerri sends me a message informing me that the birds are en route to her. Not long after that she lets me know that the birds are fine, strong and grateful to be out of their crates.

Kerri holding one of the birds at VULPRO (photo VULPRO)
I am so relieved and shed a silent tear of relief and gratitude to all involved. These two girls have been in crates for almost 18 hours. 

Cape vulture ready for amputation

They amputate the wing the following day.

the wing that is amputated

what is left after the amputation

These two birds take me back to the days of when Mr G, Ms V and Poppie lived in a large aviary at Rookwood. All of these birds had permanently damaged wings from interaction with power lines and were never able to fly free again. Mr G, the big guy, was the male amongst the ladies.
Mr G - the big guy!

Ms V - the shy one

He was my first ever captive vulture and kept many other raptors ‘company while they were rehabilitating. Ms V was a rather nervous rescue from Burgersdorp area while Poppie came from Hofmeyr area. They were all young birds but with time they all grew up and Ms V laid her first egg on the 7thof July 2011. The staff where so excited and proudly came to announce thatshe had given birth! She was however, unsuccessful in hatching a youngster. I then realized that it would be time to part with my mature birds and asked VULPRO to adopt them. VULPRO runs a successful breeding programme for Cape Vultures. Mr G and Ms V paired and have bred twice since moving up to Hartebeespoort dam area while Poppie took a mate up at VULPRO and has also been successful in breeding.  

Poppie with one of her youngster bred at VULPRO (photo Bernita Boemans)

Although I was left with an ‘empty cage’ syndrome when the DHL bakkie left on Thursday, I realize that these two birds will not be the last that will pass through my hands. My only wish and hope are that the vultures I receive in the future will be able to spread their 2.5m wide wingspan and continue to fly free in the big blue skies of the Eastern Cape. 

Free flying Cape Vultures in the Eastern Cape


  1. Seriously this is so sad, I get tears in my eyes.

  2. Thanks for the update Kate, Love reading of your adventures on Rookwood!!