Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Sascha and Klein Danie

a free flying Cape Vulture

On Thursday, I got the dreaded call from Dana Berens in Germany, informing that she was convinced that Sascha, the Cape Vulture, was not alive anymore and feared that he had died under a power line and would I be prepared to go and look for him.


Sascha was one of five Cape vultures fitted with tracking devices at Oribi Gorge in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) early in 2013. Sascha decided that he wanted to visit the Eastern Cape and not long after being fitted with his device, he was tracked to the Patryshoogte area near Bedford.  While Sascha was foraging on these flats, we had just fitted Klein Danie with a tracking device and had released him in the Knapdaar area of Burgersdorp close to the Orange River.

Four electrocuted Cape Vultures  - Klein Danie just missed this! (photo Danie von Litsenborg)

Klein Danie patiently waiting for his tracking device to be fitted

Klein Danie was a ‘lucky’ Cape Vulture that was found by Danie von Litsenborg of the Burgersdorp area. Six other vultures had been electrocuted, but Klein Danie had miraculously missed being killed.  

Klein Danie with the tracking device just before take off

Danie brought Klein Danie to me to allow him to recover before being released again.  Sadly this was to be the 4th Cape Vulture I had collected from Danie. Power lines had affected all these vultures.

Patryshoogte flats where Sascha foraged last summer
We were concerned about Sascha and in April he seemed to be fairly stationary and I feared the worst regarding the power lines. I drove down to the Patryshoogte flats to see if I could locate him, however he had decided to move on up to Cradock.  While searching for Sascha,I had found another dead vulture that had unfortunately died of starvation after breaking her wing on a transmission line.

Klein Danie takes off !!!

Like Sascha, Klein Danie (also a new kid on the block) enjoyed his new found freedom and he proceeded to show us how high he could fly, how fast he could fly and of course most importantly where he was flying.  

Dana continued to keep me updated on Sascha’s movements in the Eastern Cape and at times it seemed that Sascha and Klein Danie were flying and foraging together.  One could clearly identify as they moved from colony to colony as they flew.  Young vultures have to spend at least five years on the wing before finding their suitable mate to start breeding, so both these guys could be free flying teenagers for a long time.


Stormberg range a favourite foraging ground for Cape Vultures in the Eastern Cape


Klein Danie's last hours of life!

Just under four months after releasing Klein Danie, I noticed that his tracking device had indicated that he seemed to have stopped moving. My heart was heavy when I set out to search for him close to the Birds’ river area near Penhoek pass. 
Klein Danie's killer power lines!

The only evidence we found was that Klein Danie’s last meal was that of a cow that had died.  During our search we crossed paths with a farmer in the area, Andre Scheepers and explained who we were looking for. 

He told us that he had seen dead vultures near a power line on one of his properties and promised to look when he went that way. 

Klein Danie

A day later, I got the call, Klein Danie was found dead under power lines.  He had been electrocuted.  The ‘new kid on the block’ had not survived!!!!  Andre found a second bird, barely alive, lying a little distance from Klein Danie. I was devastated.

I arranged to collect them and brought them both home.  Klein Danie’s tracking device had been damaged beyond repair. The Stormberg branch of the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association had sponsored this device. 


The second bird, I called Houdini, so badly wanted to survive,but unfortunately had a hip break that would not heal. Dr Schalk Janse van Rensburg put him to sleep for me.  It was and still is a very emotional period for me.

Houdini in a sling



Sascha continued to fly free and wide and during the colder winter months returned to his ‘home’ colony at Oribi Gorge area in KZN.  He however, seemed to like the Eastern Cape and set off south during the summer months once more.  Both he and Klein Danie enjoyed the Stormberg mountain range and their tracking devices told us this story. 

Sascha's last view before he died - power lines in the distance ended his life.


Sascha’s last months were spent flying past the 
Donkerhoek roost near Penhoek pass, up past the Dorper Wind Farm turbines on top of the Bamboeshoek Mountains and moved back into the Stormberg range. Sadly his gamble with our unsafe power line structure was to be his demise.

So when Dana phoned me, I just knew what she was going to tell me and ask me to do.  Just like Klein Danie, I can only hope that the pain they felt was not too long before they died.

The plastic of the harness burnt to the skin of Sascha

Sascha and Klein Danie were only young vultures doing what vultures do; however, one wonders how many ‘untracked’ young birds manage to safely dodge the incredible maze of unsafe electric power lines for five years before they can start breeding in this province or even in South Africa.

Cape Vultures using a transmission line structure as a roost

As background to this unnecessary sad loss, I think the Environmental Impact Assessment processes are not done correctly or thoroughly. 

A 22kV line being fitted with raptor protectors

The 22 kV lines - the smaller ones that are the major killers should be fitted with raptor protectors before they are refurbished.

Sascha has been buried close to Klein Danie and Houdini and in due course I will plant an indigenous tree there in remembrance of these poor guys, who gave us just a little peek into their world with their tracking devices.


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