Co-ordinator of the Bearded Vulture Recovery Programme and Facilitator of the implementation of the Biodiversity Management Plan for the species:
Dr. Sonja Krüger, email@example.com
The Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus is a Critically Endangered species in Southern Africa whose entire range in the Southern Hemisphere falls within the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa and Lesotho. The Bearded Vulture Recovery Programme was initiated in 2000 to determine the breeding status of the species and has more recently undertaken research and monitoring to quantify the decline in the species, investigate the mechanisms of this decline and determine the most appropriate management actions necessary to attain the short-term species’ conservation target of a positive population growth rate.
The population is estimated at between 368-408 individuals (109-221 breeding pairs) and occupies a breeding range of 28 125 km2. Research has shown that human impacts are driving the decline, with the primary causes of mortality being poisoning and collisions with power lines. The overall foraging range of the population is estimated to be 51 767 km2 and non-adults were found to use 65% of this area whereas adults focused their activities in an area of about 286 km2 around their nests.
A Population Habitat and Viability Analysis was undertaken in 2006 to model the persistence of the population based on the available information at the time. This analysis determined that the population was declining and a Conservation Management Plan was developed for the species aimed at addressing the threats within southern Africa to ensure a positive population growth rate. A Bearded Vulture Task Force was created to ensure the implementation of the plan. The task force includes members of the conservation authorities in Lesotho and the three relevant provinces of South Africa, the scientific community, relevant NGOs and volunteers who undertake monitoring. The conservation plan was revised in 2011 to align with national legislation in South Africa and a Biodiversity Management Plan was gazetted for the species in May 2014. The South African Minister of Environment Affairs appointed Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife as the authority to oversee the implementation of the plan. In order to ensure that the plan was implemented in both Lesotho and South Africa, a transboundary Recovery Strategy and Action Plan was developed in 2020. This plan will be implemented through the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Project structure and will take the place of the Biodiversity Management Plan for the species. The Bearded Vulture will be included in the Biodiversity Management Plan for South African Vultures which is currently being developed.
Population Viability Analysis models were redone in 2014, based on the results of more than 10 years of research on the species, to determine the future population trend and identify the primary demographic and environmental constraints on the population. The models predict a negative growth rate for the population over the next 50 years with a high probability (89%) of extinction as a result of low survival estimates and reduced productivity (55%). To achieve a positive growth rate, mortality rates should be reduced by >50%, productivity increased by >25% and the population should be supplemented by at least six individuals annually for the next 20 years.
A recovery programme is required to maintain a genetically viable in-situ population of Bearded Vulture in southern Africa. In order to reduce mortality rates, increase productivity and supplement the population, a number of objectives need to be attained:
1. The actions identified in the Bearded Vulture Recovery Strategy and Action Plan and the Biodiversity Management Plan for South African Vultures need to be implemented to address the threats to the in-situ population.
2. A conservation breeding programme must be established to:
i) ensure a diverse and sustainable ex-situ rescue or insurance population to prevent extinction, and
ii) to produce viable chicks for reintroduction into suitable areas of their former range.
In 2015, The Bearded Vulture Task Force took the decision to implement a Conservation Breeding Programme, based on the size of the in-situ population and the trend in number as well as the IUCN recommendations to consider such a strategy when populations number less than 1000 wild individuals. This programme was initiated by Shannon Hoffman at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary near Pietermaritzburg. This centre was chosen because of the existing permits and facilities, the available skills of the manager and the fact that it houses the only captive Bearded Vulture in southern Africa.
Bearded Vulture Breeding Programme
Manager of the Bearded Vulture Breeding Programme: Ms. Shannon Hoffman, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://africanraptor.co.za/
The breeding programme is a long term project, spanning a minimum of twenty years. The initial step is to establish a founder population of 20-30 unrelated individuals. Since there is only one individual of the sub-Saharan African sub-species in captivity in southern Africa, individuals need to be harvested from the wild.
Bearded Vultures breed during winter and although they lay two eggs, only a single chick is raised each season. Therefore the biologically redundant second eggs can be harvested and the chicks hatched and raised in captivity without threatening the wild population. This method will be used to establish a founder population that will be reared in captivity. These individuals will then be matured and paired with breeding in mind, with the progeny available for release after about a 10 year period.
The captive birds in the breeding programme include; an adult (confiscated in 2011 from a private facility where it was held in an inappropriate facility after being collected illegally from the wild), a male and female that fledged successfully from eggs collected in 2015, two females that fledged successfully from eggs collected in 2017 and 2018, and two males and two females fledged successfully from eggs collected in 2019.
In order to establish a founder population of 20-30 unrelated individuals to form breeding pairs, a minimum of 30 eggs need to be harvested from the wild to take into account uneven sex ratios and illness or impaired eggs/individuals. We propose to harvest six eggs annually for the next five years from territories where pairs are known to breed regularly and which are accessible by mountaineers and the harvesting team to ensure the least amount of disturbance to the nest and egg.
The Bearded Vulture Task Force has been in place since 2006, during which time much has been done towards conserving this Critically Endangered trans-frontier icon. Unfortunately, the critical status of the species has necessitated the implementation of a Recovery Programme for the species, but with the continued collaboration of the dedicated task force members and their respective institutions, as well as numerous stakeholders engaged by the task force over the past 10 years, the programme’s vision of “maintaining a genetically viable in-situ population of Bearded Vulture in southern Africa” can be achieved.
Cape Vulture Project
The Cape Vulture project of KwaZulu-Natal focusses on monitoring all major roosts and the four large breeding colonies in the province on an annual basis.
A number of Cape Vultures have been fitted with satellite tags to obtain more information on their movement patterns, home range sizes, and causes of mortality. Data from these satellite tags have also been used to develop risk maps to aid in the planning and siting of proposed developments throughout Southern Africa.
In addition, a number of Cape Vultures have been fitted with yellow wing tags to enable researchers to estimate the survival rate of the species.