Conducting Vulture Nest Surveys on Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

The importance of Vultures to the ecosystem is a familiar topic to everyone who has visited one of our projects – spend just a margin of time with our Wildlife ACT monitors or managers, and you’ll hear just how important Vultures are.

Photo by Wildlife ACT Marketing and Media Manager, Megan Whittington

As the ongoing threats to vulture populations continue, the number of nesting pairs within the protected areas around us decline. In an attempt to understand the decline better, annual vulture nest surveys are carried out to monitor the breeding success of Vulture nesting pairs which in turn is used to measure the health of the local vulture populations.

Breeding season for most vulture species monitored in Zululand usually lies between June and November – over which time our teams on the ground start to be on specific lookout for the pairs in regular trees. With just one egg laid per vulture pair, their challenge continues – to ensure successful rearing and fledging of their one-and-only offspring of the breeding season.

This year, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park Wildlife ACT monitoring teams are fully prepared to take on the “ground-truthing” nest survey, complementing the aerial surveys carried out annually by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to support the KZN Vulture Strategy. The HiP team met with Anel, Wildlife ACT Vulture Programme Manager, to do some in-field workshopping to ensure the team is well-equipped to conduct successful vulture nest surveys this year.

To do these surveys, the teams use the GPS locations acquired from the aerial survey, as well as local knowledge from HiP staff to scout and assess the nests from the ground. At each nest, data such as Nest ID, Location, GPS bearing from the vehicle to nest, Estimated distance from vehicle to nest, Bird species, Tree species, Habitat type, any anthropomorphic disturbance and its distance , Any elephant damage, Activity of the specific nesting vulture, and any photos are recorded.

All of this fine-scale data collected from the various nest sites across the breeding clusters, ultimately assists in determining vulture breeding success rates and potential mortality causes. They also assist by giving valuable insight to other important information, which will contribute to planned research projects, such as tree selection, Elephant damage and any other potential threats.

Wish our teams luck this season of vulture nest surveys!

Please consider supporting the Vulture Conservation Programme HERE.