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Raptor Monitoring and Rehabilitation in the Northern Cape

Author: Ronelle Visagie, Endangered Wildlife Trust

I am Ronelle Visagie, serving as a dedicated Field Officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), primarily focused on the arid regions of the Northern Cape since 2005, for Raptor Monitoring and Rehabilitation in the Northern Cape . Additionally, I conduct powerline investigations in the Eastern Cape and the Free State as part of the Wildlife and Energy Programme of the EWT. My operational base is located on a farm between De Aar and Hopetown.

Since my introduction to birding in 1987, individuals have entrusted me with injured and ailing birds. Despite the absence of a dedicated bird rehabilitation center in the Northern Cape, my commitment to aiding these birds remains steadfast. Leveraging my past experience with parrots, I have established several small aviaries, including a substantial 30 m aviary generously sponsored by Puy du Fou of France in 2017.

This facility allows us to assess the flight capabilities of vultures, eagles, and other birds before their release. While our rehabilitation capacity is limited, we strive to assist as many birds as possible, redirecting those requiring specialized care to other dedicated rehab centers. I hold the necessary permits and enjoy the support of local veterinarians for the rehabilitation efforts.

Figure 1. The large recovery aviary made with cricket netting. This aviary is vital for the recovery of injured and poisoned birds, also allowing birds to fly the length of the cage to build up strength and flight muscles.

In our ongoing commitment to understanding the post-release survival and movements of rehabilitated birds, many of our rehabbed birds are equipped with GPS tracking units. This practice has unveiled the remarkable journeys and extensive movements that these raptors undertake once rehabilitated.

One noteworthy individual, a Cape Vulture appropriately named Hansie, exemplified this phenomenon. Thriving for nearly four years, Hansie traversed an astonishing distance of over 30,000 kilometers, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of these majestic birds. Unfortunately, our optimism was met with a somber reality in November 2023, when Hansie fell victim to poisoning in northern Botswana. This tragic incident highlights the ongoing threats that these magnificent creatures face even after successful rehabilitation, underscoring the urgency of our collective efforts to address and eliminate such hazards in their habitats.

Figure 2. Hansie’s remarkable journey over the last year, traveling over 30,000 kilometers, showcasing the resilience and adaptability of these majestic birds.  

Figure 3. This beautiful Tawny Eagle came from Colesberg with a slight wing injury, and she could not fly.  She recovered well and a few weeks later she was fitted with a satellite tracker and flew straight back to Colesberg.

Figure 4. Her flight route back to Colesberg.

The impact of powerlines on our large bird populations remains a significant concern, resulting in injuries and fatalities due to electrocutions or collisions with the structures. In response to this critical issue, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has forged a crucial partnership with Eskom. Together, we conduct thorough investigations into powerline incidents, aiming to mitigate the risks posed to our avian companions.

As part of our collaborative efforts, Eskom takes proactive measures to enhance safety. This includes insulating sections of the conductors to prevent electrocutions and implementing visible markings on the lines using devices commonly referred to as "flappers." These measures are designed to increase the visibility of powerlines, reducing the likelihood of bird collisions and promoting the overall well-being of our winged counterparts.

Figure 5. Birds that were treated and released successfully recently.

Despite these preventive measures, challenges persist. Recently, two Cape Vultures were discovered beneath powerlines south of De Aar, both suffering from broken wings. In response, these injured birds were promptly sent to VulPro for specialized treatment. This incident underscores the ongoing need for vigilance and collaborative efforts to address the complex challenges that powerlines pose to our large bird species, highlighting the significance of our partnership with Eskom in mitigating these impacts.

Figure 6. Two Cape Vultures injured on a powerline and rescued by Ronelle Visagie in January 2024.

In addition to my rehabilitation work, I engage in raptor monitoring for the Birds of Prey Programme, overseeing monitoring of more than 3000 vulture nests at Mokala National Park and surrounding farms over the years. Collaborating with landowners, I actively work to mitigate threats and enhance habitat conditions for all raptor species. My multifaceted role underscores my unwavering commitment to the conservation and well-being of South Africa's avian treasures.

Since 2008, I have been actively engaged in the monitoring of breeding vultures at Mokala National Park, a responsibility that includes the annual ringing of chicks every October.

This crucial endeavor is carried out with the collaboration of a highly experienced team hailing from esteemed organizations such as the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England, Puy du Fou in France, and Gauntlet Birds of Prey, Eagle and Vulture Park in Knutsford, England. Through our collective efforts, we have successfully ringed a remarkable total of 927 vulture chicks, while concurrently monitoring over 3000 nests at Mokala and its surrounding farms.

In 2019, I expanded my vulture conservation efforts to the Kalahari, specifically targeting areas adjacent to the Molopo and Kuruman Rivers, as well as a selection of farms. Annually, I diligently monitor between 450 and 500 nests, contributing valuable insights into the breeding patterns and population dynamics of these majestic birds.

Reflecting on my involvement in raptor conservation since 1987, I have observed a concerning decline in raptor numbers in the Northern Cape. This historical perspective underscores the urgency of our collective responsibility to take decisive action. It is imperative that we channel our efforts toward comprehensive strategies aimed at mitigating the threats faced by these iconic species.

In light of the evident challenges, there is an urgent call to do everything within our power to preserve and protect raptor populations in the Northern Cape. My commitment to this cause remains unwavering, and I am dedicated to working tirelessly to ensure the survival and flourishing of these magnificent birds in our natural ecosystems.



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