Taronga is supporting a combined effort to better understand wild populations of vultures in Tanzania.
African vulture populations have declined significantly in recent years, primarily due to poisoning, with many species now classed as critically endangered.
What is not well known by the wider community is that vultures play a critical role in ecosystems through their scavenging. Vultures are essential for disease control and where populations have declined elsewhere in the world, the financial damage is estimated to be in excess of $34 billion.
A Taronga Field Conservation grant to Dr. Corinne Kendall from North Carolina Zoological Park and Dr. Claire Bracebridge of Wildlife Conservation Society will allow the attachment of temporary tracking devices to White-backed Vultures in Tanzania, so their movements can be monitored.
This is vital to developing strategies to ensure the survival of Africa’s vulture species. The team aims to attach tracking devices to ten vultures; two had already been tagged during the October 2015 field trip.
But what does it take to attach a tracking device on a vulture?
On 10 February, the team awoke to heavy rain as they made the final preparations to go into the field. The following day the research team set safe snares on a carcass on an unused air trip and waiting for a vulture to descend.
Like many things in life, trapping vultures takes patience. So for the next two days, the team watched and waited in a hidden spot 50 meters away, through sunshine and drizzling rain. No vultures descended.
The team decided to move locations and was quickly rewarded with 35 White-backed Vultures flying above their carcass. Unfortunately none descended that day, but with two more days of persistence the first vulture was trapped on 15 February.
The goal is to fit the tracking device and undertake all tests within 30 minutes to minimise stress.
Taking blood samples is useful for sexing the individuals and for measuring lead exposure, a known risk to birds who scavenge on carcasses killed by lead shot such as the vulture and California Condor.
The team then released the vulture, filming it as it flew away, ecstatic with their success.
After their initial success, the research team didn’t have to wait long before trapping their second (and final) bird for the trip, meaning a total of four birds are relaying data.
With further field trips, and more birds wearing tracking devices, extensive information on movement patterns of these iconic birds will be gained. Stay tuned for stories of these birds adventures.
- By staff conservation champion Brendan Host