Critically Endangered Bearded Vulture Chick has fledged

A Bearded Vulture chick has fledged from a nest that has been eagerly watched by many fans via a camera in the nest for the past few months.

In 2010 Marriott sponsored a camera and supporting equipment (solar panels and batteries to charge the camera) to be placed in a nest at a secure location in the Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site. The equipment was installed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and EVS who have funded the ongoing technical support and connectivity.  The camera equipment worked well but much to everyone’s disappointment, the adults decided not to breed that year. Bearded Vultures nest in large, deep potholes on high mountain cliffs usually above 1800 m. They often have a number of alternate nests on their territorial cliff and can use any one of these.

Several other challenges were experienced between 2011 and 2013 including the solar panels being smashed by vandals. Finally in 2014 the adult pair chose to lay their eggs in the nest with the camera in it. Early in September a chick hatched followed by a second one a few days later. Although the adults lay two eggs, they only raise one chick. The first to hatch is the strongest chick and is that one that is fed and cared for by the parents. Over the past few months the camera has shown the chick being fed and preened by both parents. Then finally after three months the chick has spread its wings and took its first flight at 8h47 on 3 December 2014 and returned at 9h20. It flew out of the nest again a few minutes later returning after two hours.

The fledgling will remain in the nest area for a few more months, still being cared for by the parents but also looking for food to scavenge in the landscape. Bearded Vultures feed mainly on bones which they scavenge from carcasses. This fledgling will take another 5-6 years to become an adult. The species is Critically Endangered in southern Africa and is threatened mainly by poisoning. They are targeted directly for use in the traditional medicine trade and indirectly by feeding on poisoned baits meant for jackal.

The camera in the nest is part of an ongoing research project undertaken by the Maloti Drakensberg Vulture Project. The project aims to quantify the decline in the species, investigate the mechanisms of this decline and determine the most appropriate management actions necessary to achieve a positive population growth rate.

For more information on the project visit www.projectvulture.org.za. For more information on EVS visit www. evsolutions.biz and for more information Marriott visit www.marriott.co.za.