Vulture Conservation
February 15, 2017

Using GPS Units to Monitor our Remaining Vultures

At the end of January 2017, our monitoring team at the uMkhuze Section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park had a special sighting of one of our tagged White-backed vultures. This individual, a sub-adult female (tag number M038), was tagged and fitted with a satellite tracking (GPS) unit in February 2015 near uMkhuze. This was done as part of the Zululand Vulture Project and logging onto her tracking pack data we can see her detailed movements since the tagging.[caption id="attachment_14313" align="aligncenter" width="942"]

Movement patterns of White-backed vulture M038.

Movement patterns of White-backed vulture (M038) since February 2015.[/caption]This individual is now a young adult and has shown to keep a relatively small home range, staying mainly within protected areas. White-backed vultures are a critically endangered species and it is always a relief to see animals happily sticking to the safety of these areas.[caption id="attachment_14314" align="aligncenter" width="942"]

White-backed Vulture wearing a satellite tracking unit fitted in February 2015.

White-backed Vulture wearing a satellite (GPS) tracking unit fitted in February 2015.[/caption]Unfortunately, not all of these birds stay in protected areas and studies have shown that a great deal of vulture movements are outside of these safe havens. This increases their exposure to dangers such as poisoning, electrocution by power-lines, or accidentally being hit by vehicles on busy roads.However, one of the many ways we can use the GPS tracking data collected from birds such as M038, is to identify Important Bird Areas (IBA) across their range and outside protected areas. Once we know this, mitigating measures can be taken to insure a safer passage through these areas and ultimately better protection of this fascinating and incredibly important species.

Text & Photo by Wildlife ACT Monitor PJ Roberts

One of the vulture conservation goals is to fine-scale vulture movement patterns of the various species breeding in the province by deploying GPS units to both adults and fledglings. We are hoping to identify trends based on these movements to help conservation management better protect these endangered birds.