The first such vulture safety zone, announced in September, is the Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, a massive 114,000-hectare (281,700-acre) private reserve owned by the wealthy Oppenheimer family of De Beers diamond fame.

Further south, in the arid Karoo region, private landowners and South African National Parks are establishing two other zones, one in the vicinity of Mokala National Park, approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) south-southwest of the diamond-mining town of Kimberley, and a larger one that incorporates the Karoo, Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra national parks — around 96,000 hectares (237,200 acres).

In Mpumalanga province, the focus will be on protecting important breeding clusters of critically endangered white-backed (Gyps africanus) and hooded vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) along the Blyde and Olifants rivers, while there are plans for a fifth safe zone in KwaZulu-Natal province.

The safe zones will complement work already undertaken by Ezemvelo and its partners in conserving vulture populations in the Zululand and Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg regions under the umbrella of Project Vulture, a multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Coverdale highlighted that vultures nesting in apparent safety in South Africa’s government-run wildlife parks flew well beyond the boundaries of protected areas while foraging — in some cases as far as Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

It was thus vital that South African vulture conservation groups worked more closely with conservation agencies in neighboring countries to protect these birds.

He said it was equally important to find ways to combat the trade in vulture parts for traditional medicine.

Nomthandazo Sam Manqele, a researcher at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, presented preliminary findings from her study of vulture parts sold at two traditional medicine markets near Durban and Nongoma.

Of 100 muthi sellers interviewed, 71 said they used vulture parts.

As most vultures entering the trade have been killed with poisons, this places both users and traders at risk, Manqele said.

Coverdale said an intervention strategy had been developed to reduce this consumption and demand for vultures through an awareness-building campaign targeting consumers and current stakeholders in the trade.

And the good news, said Manqele, was that crows, which are common and not threatened, may provide a suitable alternative in some instances.


Ogada, D., Shaw, P., Beyers, R. L., Buij, R., Murn, C., Thiollay, J. M., … Sinclair, A. R. E. (2015). Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction. Conservation Letters, 9(2), 89-97. doi:10.1111/conl.12182


Tony Carnie, a KwaZulu-Natal based freelance journalist, produced this story for Mongabay and Roving Reporters, a journalism training agency that focuses on environmental, social and justice issues. Fred Kockott is the agency’s founding director.


Banner image: Hooded vulture. Image courtesy John Davies/EWT

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