REST: Saving Namibia's Vultures


The Rare and Endangered Species Trust is an organisation that operates in Central-Northern Namibia near the town of Otjiwarongo and the Okonkjima game reserve. Many of you may remember them from our post on Pangolin conservation, but REST also plays a leading role in the effort to conserve endangered vultures in Namibia. Read on to find out how you can help too.

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The Cape Griffon vulture, in flight
.
(Image courtesy of REST)

The vultures' plight

Most people are surprised when they find out about the plight of the various species of vultures in southern Africa. The fact is that vulture numbers are down across the region, and unless strong action is taken immediately we risk losing many of these species.

In Namibia Maria Diekmann decided to take action and many years ago founded REST. The trust now runs many programs to help save various species of animals in and around Namibia. Maria, along with her dedicated band of volunteers and permanent staff, hopes to educate the public on the plight of the vulture and in doing so illustrate just how vital these birds are for a functioning and healthy ecosystem.

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Maria preparing to release Diana, a White Backed vulture, into the wild.
(Image courtesy of REST)

What vultures do for us

Simply put, vultures are nature’s clean-up crew. These birds can eat just about anything, ingest any pathogen and remove it from the ecosystem. What this does is it takes this undesirable meat, and disease, out of the ecosystem.

Without vultures doing this, whatever disease is in an animal’s carcass will get ingested by other scavenging animals (wild dogs, jackals etc) and will eventually land causing a lot of harm to the entire ecosystem that has been robbed of its vultures.

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Wild White Backed vultures nesting.
(Image courtesy of REST)

What is happening to Namibia's vultures?

Poaching is a massive problem for vultures in southern Africa. These birds are the ultimate innocent bystanders in the bloody war that is poaching. This is what happens: A gang of poachers will kill an animal for its ivory, horn or pelt and will then discard the carcass in the bush. Once this is done the vultures, who have keen eyesight and a knack for sniffing out a meal, will circle and eventually descend down to feed on the dead animal.

Many game rangers and anti-poaching teams had begun to use the circling vultures as a way of spotting where an act of poaching may have occurred and could then begin to give chase to any possible poachers. But the poachers have gotten wise to this. Now these highly organised gangs of thieves and smugglers will poison a carcass that they have killed in the hopes that it will kill off the vultures in area and thus make it harder for the game rangers and authorities to find them.

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Nelson, a rescued Cape Griffon vulture who, unfortunately,
is too damaged to send back into the wild.

(Image courtesy of Linda Millington, via REST)

In August, this year, 600-1000 vultures were killed when one poached elephant carcass was deliberately poisoned in an attempt to rid an area in the north of Namibia of its vultures. Visit here to see if you can lend a hand to help lessen this crisis. It is estimated that every year nearly 2000 cultures are deliberately poisoned.

There are other problems facing vultures in our modern world as well. Loss of habitat, internal organs for use in traditional medicine, ignorance and even misguided farmers who pump their cattle and herds full of an anti-inflammatory drug that is as deadly as a poison to a vulture. We cannot stop all of these things at once, but we can begin to reverse the thinking behind each of these problems, one at a time.

The good news

The good news is that you now know about the problem. More good news is that through organisations like REST we can all lend a hand to making the world a little bit more vulture-friendly. And as with most conservation efforts it starts with education. By learning about the vital role, and by teaching this to young children REST fulfills an integral role in bringing awareness to the masses about the plight of the vulture, and you can help.

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Volunteers at REST tagging a Cape Griffon vulture.
This was the first time ever that this species had been tagged using telemetry.

What we can do

You can volunteer. Not only is this a fantastic way to get to learn about a variety of different animals that REST concerns itself with, but it is also a fantastic way to have a unique and moving experience in Namibia. Click this link to find out all the details on REST’s volunteer project.

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Volunteers at REST get the full hands-on experience.
(Image courtesy of REST)

There is accommodation for volunteers with running water and all the amenities you need to live comfortably in the bush. You won’t be finding a TV or anything like that though! The prices are reasonable and all the money paid is ploughed straight back into the trust’s efforts.

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A vulture, flying the coup.

If you do not have the ability, or time, to volunteer then you can always donate money to the trust. All money is directly spent on conservation efforts as the organisation is well streamlined to ensure that no money is wasted on needless bureaucratic expenses.

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Funds are used to maintain things like REST's vulture restaurant.
(Image courtesy of REST)

Maria and REST rely on donations and sponsorships to allow them to continue doing the good work that they do, so once you have finished reading this article please consider donating some time or money to their cause.

The future

One of REST’s focuses is the critically endangered Cape Griffon vulture. There are only 12 breeding pairs left in Namibia of this majestic bird. That is not a big number, and it is even more shocking when you consider that 50 years ago there were over 2000 of these birds.

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Nelson having a bit of a pose for the camera.
(Image courtesy of REST)

But, if you visit REST you can see what is hoped will be the first successful breeding project of the Cape Griffon in captivity. Things are looking good right now and everyone is holding thumbs that this will be the start along the long road to recovery for these vital, and too often forgotten about, birds.

We need to support organisations like REST and we have to educate ourselves, and everyone we know, about the importance of vultures in the wild and by extension, our lives.

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REST is planning for the future by protecting what we have now.


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