Thursday, 23 October 2014

Molteno Vultures

It was an extremely sad and emotional day for me when I stumbled across the poisoned Cape Vultures on a farm in the Molteno district on the 10th December 2013.  When I had set out that morning to search for a specific vulture with a GPS tracking device on, I had never imagined what would transpire.  

view of the Stormberg range mountains near Molteno where the vultures soar

one of my first group of poisoned vultures I found
Of course the news was bad but the information so often lacking with such a find.  The birds I and Dept Nature Conservation came across had consumed poisoned carcasses of two sheep that had been placed in two different locations on the farm.  I initially counted 43 but an additional five were found further from the carcasses when the Green Scorpions visited the property. 

three of the casualties
a vulture died right next to one of the sheep carcasses

I think after I came across the first scene of 36 birds around one sheep, my mind must have been in overdrive with the devastation that lay before me.  Some of the birds must have died within minutes of consuming the poisoned carcasses,
while the others suffered a longer horrendous death.  When I stumbled on the second carcass with additional five birds, I did not want to anticipate finding more but unfortunately did so further away from the carcass (another two). 

As a person who is passionate about our environment, this was and still will be one of the most horrific incidents I have ever experienced.  Despite wanting to ‘run away’ from the scene, I did my best to photograph and record the scene, as this is also my world I live in and it is my duty to protect it.  Yes, once off the property and into cell phone signal, I did contact the Green Scorpions to inform them of my find.  I have spent many hours of my life saving Cape Vultures, educating people on them, assisting Eskom with problem lines and talking about the value of these birds – just to walk away closing my eyes was not an option.  They are very much part of our biodiversity.  What if they had been 48 rhinos – could I have walked away?

Horrific scene of destruction


That specific bird I was looking for was fitted with a tracking device, which could tell you where and when he moved.  He had skipped electrocution in the Free State and had been fitted with the device at VULPRO near Hartebeespoort dam in the NW province.  Like most youngsters, he had spread his wings and ended up in the Molteno district.  We recorded his last movements alive  on the 4th December and I set out to search for him on the morning of the 10th December – he had been dead for 6 days already!!!  This effectively means that although the poison had been placed in these sheep carcasses on the 3rd or 4th of December, the farmer had NEVER returned to the scene to ascertain if he had reached his target, which was allegedly vagrant dogs that had killed his sheep. 

The tracked bird - still a juvenile with another 5 years to go for adulthood!!!


what pain did they experience?
The court case has come and gone
and so we discover  the legal laws for ‘protecting’ our own biodiversity are in actual fact very little!!! Yes, Armand Aucamp, the farmer,  has paid the price, a convicted man with a small fine.  However, the saddest part for me is that en route back home after stumbling across this incident, I just realized how the irresponsible actions of one farmer, had destroyed the image of many farmers of the Eastern Cape whom I have worked with over the years.

note the dead flies on the sheep carcass
The Molteno vulture poisoning incident may eventually have some positive outcomes, like an amendment to the ancient Act 36 of 1947, on the misuse of poisons as well as the Biodiversity Act, which needs to be stronger to protect our heritage; however, it will NEVER replace those birds that died such a horrible death.

the flies died as the vulture tried to regurgitate to rid itself of the poison!
I have always seen the farmer as our biodiversity protector and NOT the game and national parks, as they are the ones that have to ‘work with nature’ to make a living.   Farmers probably have the biggest responsibility and task in South Africa, namely to protect our environment and have to produce the food for the more than 60% urbanized people in South Africa. The earth is their ‘resource’ to produce this much needed food. Sometimes this is extremely tough (droughts, veldt fires, predators and vagrant dogs to name but a few challenges), yet one individual can make it tougher for all!!!!

 “The devastation, destruction, horror and despair I experienced on Tuesday 10 Dec 2013 will remain a deep scar etched in my brain for the rest of my time on earth. Not one of those 48 Cape Vultures deserved to die like that!!! What right do we have to life if we cannot preserve our heritage?”

the innocent victim of complete misuse of poison - what did they know, they were merely looking for food!!!


“Whatever you do in life - you must carry those consequences however good or bad they are. Nobody can ask for your pardon!!!!!”