This spectacular scenery is home to one of Southern Africa’s few remaining populations of Bearded Vulture, a critically endangered bird of high altitude landscapes. The conservation of Golden Gate National Park is critical in forming a continuous protected area corridor along the length the Drakensberg/Maluti Mountain range. This in turn provides safe and suitable habitat and food for this endangered bird.
The funds raised from this event are vital for the conservation of the Bearded Vulture, amongst others such as the threatened Cape Vulture. SANParks and their dedicated Honorary Officers need all the assistance that they can get in ensuring the ongoing protection of this beautiful reserve and the conservation of several different species.
Scientific name: Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis
In former times the distribution of this magnificent raptor extended from the Cape of Good Hope, along the eastern mountain spine of Africa into northwest Africa, then through the Middle East and into Europe and central Asia. Now the only population left in the Southern Hemisphere resides in our isolated and rugged Maluti-Drakensberg highlands. This endangered African sub-species has suffered more than 30% decline in recent history and there are thought to be less than 100 pairs left.
The Bearded Vulture is classified as Endangered in Southern Africa, based on the small and declining population size, restricted range, range contraction and susceptibility to several threats in Lesotho and South Africa.
Their populations are threatened by the fact that there is less food available to them because of better rural farming practices and thus less stock mortalities. Their feathers, skins and body parts are used for ceremonial and traditional medicine purposes. They also fall foul to traps and poisoned baits set out by farmers trying to eradicate stock killers like jackal and feral dogs, and are also vulnerable to electrocution on power lines.
The Bearded Vulture used to be known as the Lammergeier, which in German means ‘lamb vulture’ and referred to what people thought were their lamb-catching tendencies. This inappropriate name has done these large scavenging birds a great disservice.
This project was initiated with the initial aim of monitoring nest sites to determine population trends. The project has now expanded to include the implementation of various actions aimed at mitigating the threats to the species. The project has a group of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers who monitor the Bearded Vulture throughout its range in Lesotho and South Africa.
Volunteers were active in the Kruger National Park as early as 1902 to help alleviate the workload of full-time rangers. The corps was formally constituted in May 1964, but functioned fairly loosely until 1987, when the Association of Honorary Rangers (HR) was formed with 301 members. Currently there are approximately 1 100 honorary rangers that operate nationwide in 31 regions, some of which are active in their nearest park, while others engage in specific projects and initiatives. Being such a large and widespread group, members adhere to a strict code of conduct and are required to complete a selection of courses to prepare them for involvement in the parks. To learn more about the SANParks Honorary Rangers, kindly follow the link to the HR website: www.sanparks.org.
SANParks Honorary Rangers have a long association with the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. It was here in 1987 that the Association of Honorary Rangers was formed. Although honorary rangers from other regions also contribute their services to this park, it is basically members from the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal regions that serve here.
At present, the main thrust of the SANParks Honorary Rangers’ involvement is with the conservation of Bearded and Cape vultures. Bearded Vultures are classified as an endangered species. Three conservation agencies (SANParks, KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife and Lesotho Conservation) have signed a treaty to jointly endeavour to save this species through protection of its habitat and by running a public awareness programme.
During the first phase of this endeavour, the KZN Region, in conjunction with Ben Booysen Refrigeration, Pietermaritzburg, supplied a large cold room estimated at R85 000. This enables Golden Gate Highlands National Park to supply a constant source of food to the ‘vulture restaurant’. The next step in this project is to provide an information centre with a bird hide. Here the public will not only learn more, but will also be able to observe these beautiful but elusive birds when they come to feed.