Vultures are a common sight at Nambiti and in most game reserves as they clean up old carcasses left behind by the predators. In doing this they greatly decrease the spread of disease and they serve an important role in the food chain. There are 20 species of vultures in the world and 9 in South Africa. 7 of these are listed in the Red Data Book of Birds as facing a certain degree of threat of extinction. Their biggest threats are poisoning, disturbance at breeding sights and collisions with power lines.
The ones we most commonly see in Nambiti are the White-backed Vulture and the Cape Vulture and less commonly the Lappetfaced Vulture. All the vultures we see here most likely come from the Drakensberg which is about 100km away. The Pied Crows are usually the giveaway to a carcass. As vultures soar thousands of feet in the air, one might spot some crow activity on the ground and start coming down to investigate. In turn another vulture might see that one and so on and so on and eventually there are vultures coming in from miles away.
Once on the carcass it is a mad scrap for the last little bits of meat and they can be seen sticking their heads deep inside, hence the lack of feathers on their heads and necks. They can consume up to 1kg of meat in one go which, when considering they weigh around 7-11kg’s, is a massive 10% of their body weight. Thereafter they will need to perch on a nearby tree for the rest of the day while they sleep and digest their meal before taking off again. If disturbed at the carcass they have been known to vomit up their meal in order to be able to take off quicker.
They usually need to wait until the temperatures have increased so that they can catch the thermals and reach a height suitable to fly back to their roosting sights. The two prominent bare skin patches at the base of the neck are thought to be temperature sensors and used for detecting the presence of thermals. However they do it, it is quite remarkable the distances they cover to find carcasses and the way in which they soar in the thermals. They are an important part of life in Nambiti and we love spotting them when we are on game drive and hope they are around for many years to come.