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Vulture safe zone for N Cape park

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The safe zone at Mokala National Park is one of three that are being established in strategic sites across South Africa as part of a long-term vulture conservation initiative

FEAST: A colony of vultures is seen feeding on a carcass near Kimberley. Measures have been put in place to protect the local vulture population from increased aerial activity during Armed Forces Day.

A VULTURE Safe Zone will be established at Mokala National Park, which is one of the southernmost breeding colonies of white-backed vultures.

This was announced by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) ahead of Saturday’s International Vulture Awareness Day.

The safe zone at Mokala National Park is one of three that are being established in strategic sites across South Africa as part of a long-term vulture conservation initiative.

In a statement, the EWT pointed out that since its inception in 1973 the trust has played a leading role in vulture conservation throughout southern Africa.

“In order to combat the concerning decline of vultures across South Africa, we have developed a suite of conservation interventions geared to address the key threats and stabilise and recover vulture populations,” Dr Gareth Tate, birds of prey programme manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said.

“Now we are excited to be spearheading the establishment of the first Vulture Safe Zones in South Africa.”

Tate pointed out that the use of Vulture Safe Zones had been identified as a priority conservation intervention in the Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) to conserve African-Eurasian vultures (2017).

“Vulture Safe Zones are one of the most effective ways to tackle the threats to vultures in South Africa’s dynamic landscapes. They allow us to protect areas that are important to vultures by focusing on an area, identifying what the threats are, and implementing specific conservation interventions to address these threats.”

Within these zones, all major human-related threats to vultures are actively mitigated and, where possible, removed.

“An important step in this process is the direct involvement of landowners in the establishment of Vulture Safe Zones, engaging and empowering owners across large areas to commit to managing their properties in ways that will create safe spaces for vultures and other wildlife to thrive. This ensures that existing vulture populations stabilise and, importantly, provides the opportunity for vultures to return to their traditional home ranges and breeding sites.

“Vulture Safe Zones can also function as release sites for captive-bred birds and provide benefits for many other species.”

To achieve this broad-scale conservation initiative across southern Africa, the EWT has partnered with SANParks, private reserves including BlyOlifants and Timbavati Private Nature reserves, and other key stakeholders, including the Kruger 2 Canyons Biosphere (K2C), Raptors Botswana, BirdLife International and BirdLife South Africa, to create Vulture Safe Zones in important vulture breeding and foraging habitat across the SADC region.

The first Vulture Safe Zone will be in the vulture-rich region of Mpumalanga, with a focus on protecting important breeding clusters of critically endangered white-backed and hooded vultures along the Lowveld riparian systems of the Blyde and Olifants rivers – a highly threatened vegetation type, which will also benefit from the trust’s conservation work.

The second Vulture Safe Zone falls within the central Karoo district around one of the southernmost breeding colonies of white-backed vultures in Mokala National Park.

In the third site, a Vulture Safe Zone will be established in the south-central Karoo to recover Cape vulture populations that historically frequented – and even bred – in the region.

“Our focus here comprises a critical conservation zone that spans across approximately 23 000 km² in and around three major protected areas: the Karoo, Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks,” Tate pointed out.

In all of the sites, the EWT will work with farmers, game breeders, private reserves and SANParks to develop landscapes that provide protection to breeding populations and encourage vultures back to areas where they have previously been driven away.

“Our work will help to develop sustainable land practices that benefit both the people and wildlife. Importantly, this approach encourages positive action for vultures, focusing less on prohibition and negative messaging, and more on sound environmental practices that could provide landowners with reputational and economic benefits.

“Initially implemented by countries in Asia, and recently in Zambia, Vulture Safe Zones offer conservation solutions that are effective, realistic and achievable at ground level. The launch of this initiative encapsulates the ethos of International Vulture Awareness Day, by bringing stakeholders together and focusing on positive actions, making it the perfect way to celebrate.”