How The Peregrine Fund is Helping
The Peregrine Fund has been studying vultures in Kenya and other African nations since the early 1990s. Our initial efforts focused on scientific field studies, including placing radio transmitters on vultures to better understand their movement patterns related to where they travel and where they are most exposed to poisoning.
We conduct environmental education programs in the countries in which we work to help teach people about the importance of protecting birds of prey and their habitats, and we provide hands-on training to students and local biologists. In 2013, we implemented the Maasai Mentor program, in which Maasai adults selected a few children to "take under their wings" and teach them about Maasai tradition and conservation. The goal of the project was to build a long-term vulture monitoring and conservation program through community-driven efforts and create a network of young people inspired to prevent wildlife poisoning, enhance vulture populations and make a positive difference in the lives of Maasai youth.
In addition, we also installed anti-predator systems around Maasai livestock enclosures, called bomas, and evaluated their efficiency as a means to stop livestock depredation and subsequently deliberate wildlife poisoning.
We are now focusing our conservation efforts on Rapid Response to Poisoning trainings.
Where They Live
The Cape Griffon is found in southern Africa. The largest populations are found in southeast Botswana and northeastern South Africa, and on Lesotho and in eastern South Africa. It is found in lesser numbers in other countries including in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland.
These lovely vultures can be seen roosting and nesting on large cliffs in mountainous or hilly country. It also sometimes roosts on trees or pylons. If you find yourself in Cape Griffon territory, be sure to look up. This vulture spends a lot of time often soaring over open country and woodlands in search of food.
What They Do
Vultures often rely upon other vultures and scavengers such as jackals, hyenas and even dogs, to locate food. Often while soaring high in the sky, they will search the ground below, looking for concentrations of other vultures or even other scavenging animals, as this probably means that there is some tasty food around. Upon seeing other scavengers, they fly low to investigate the scene.There is often a pecking order at a carcass, with the larger, stronger scavengers pushing the smaller, weaker ones out. Even though there The Cape Vulture will often dominate other vultures, such as the White-backed Vulture, even when it is outnumbered.
Vultures, in general are fastidious bathers – meaning it spends a considerable amount of time getting clean. They often spend their afternoons at waterholes where they will bathe and then just generally lounge around for hours.
Why They Need our Help
The Cape Griffon, like so many vulture species in Africa, have suffered major declines in population numbers.
In Africa, vulture numbers are dropping dramatically due poisoning from many different types of poisons including a carbamate pesticide called Carbofuran or Furadan. This pesticide is being misused by livestock owners and some pastoralists to poison predators like lions and hyenas that attack their livestock. When Furadan is sprinkled on a dead cow that is then eaten by other animals, they die too. This affects not only lions and hyenas, but also jackals, vultures, Tawny Eagles, Bateleurs, and even storks!
To make matters worse, some poachers are using pesticides to poison vultures for another reason. When a poacher kills an elephant or a rhino or any other animal illegally, they don't want the authorities to know about it. For example, if they kill an elephant to take its tusks, leaving the rest of the carcass behind, vultures will soon come to feed. If park rangers see vultures circling in the sky, they know that something has died and may investigate. To cover up their crimes, poachers lace the carcass of the animal with a pesticide. When vultures come down to feed, they get sick and die and, since dead vultures are less likely to be spotted than live ones, this terrible crime allows the poachers to escape before anyone learns what they have done.
To make matters worse, the Cape Griffon is dealing with other threats on the landscape including collisions and electrocutions on power lines, habitat loss, and food shortages. Sadly, vultures are also being killed and their body parts used in traditional medicine, and some are drowning in farm reservoirs. This species is categorized as Endangered.
What They Eat
Cape Griffons, like other vultures, are principally carrion eaters, which means they eat animals that are already dead. In some parts of its range, much of their natural prey isn't as readily available as it once was. As a result, they rely more heavily on dead livestock such as dead sheep, goats, and cows.
As nature's clean-up crew, vultures and other carrion eaters often consume organisms in dead and decaying animals that are harmful to humans and the environment. In fact, around a hundred of these birds can strip a 100-pound carcass in three minutes, thereby helping to contain any spread of disease. They truly help keep us safe and the environment clean! Vultures like to be clean, too. In fact, it is important for all birds to keep their feathers neat and well-groomed. But you’ve never seen a bird with a hair brush, right? Instead, they use their beaks to clean, or preen, their feathers.
Like all vultures, White-backed Vultures have very few feathers on their heads. When they eat, they often need to put their heads deep into the cavities of carcasses. If particles of this meat got deep into their feathers, they might cause bacteria or germs to grow. Though some people might think vultures look ugly, the fact is a bald head helps keep vultures healthy – and the more healthy vultures we have around the better.
Nests, Eggs, and Young
Cape Griffons are colony nesters. This means that many pairs of vultures will nest in close proximity to each other. They build their shallow stick nests on ledges of high cliffs, and sometimes in tall trees. Once they nest is built, they will lined it with a thick layer of soft grass and leaves. The female will lay one egg. Both the female and the male will spend the next 56 days or so incubating their egg. When the nestling hatches, it is covered in white down. Both parents will help feed and otherwise protect their offspring. The young vulture will grow quickly, but it will remain under its parents care for several months after it flies from the nest.
Cape Griffon and the World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive exhibits, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes are all available. Vultures are included among the ambassador birds at the visitor center, providing visitors with a wonderful opportunity to see these birds up close and learn about the wonderful and interesting adaptations they have in order to survive in their respective habitats. Meet Lucy, our resident Turkey Vulture, or enjoy seeing California Condors up close in our outdoor exhibit. There is also a touch table with feathers and other natural objects available for exploration. Our knowledgeable staff is on hand to answer any questions you may have about Cape Griffons or any other birds of prey.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 27 Aug. 2021
Kemp, A. C., G. M. Kirwan, D. A. Christie, and C. J. Sharpe (2020). Cape Griffon (Gyps coprotheres), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.capgri1.01
Robertson, A.S., and A.F. Boshoff. 1986. The feeding ecology of Cape Vultures Gyps coprotheres in a stock farming area. Biological Conservation 35:63-86.