KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Accipitriformes (Diurnal birds of prey)
FAMILY: Accipitridae (Old world vultures)
SUB-FAMILY: Aegypiinae (Vultures)
GENUS: Gyps (Typical vultures)
SPECIES: Gyps coprotheres (Cape Vulture)
The Cape vulture is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique. It formerly bred in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia, but is now extinct in Swaziland, and only small, non-breeding populations persist in Zimbabwe and Namibia. Vagrants are occasionally recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia.
The Cape vulture has a creamy-buff body plumage, which contrasts with its dark flight and tail feathers and its black bill. Adults can be distinguished by their honey-coloured eyes and naked, bluish throat, whilst juveniles have brown eyes and a pink neck.
Cape vultures inhabit open grassland, savannah and shrubland and is often found roosting on crags in mountainous regions.
Vultures feed on carrion (dead carcasses) and do not kill their own prey.
They are gregarious, feeding, roosting and breeding close to each other. Cape vultures are monogamous (having one partner at a time). They often feed in large groups and also are social breeders. The young birds normally form groups to forage and roost some distance from their breeding sites. Interactions between the different populations therefore do occur.
The nesting colonies can hold up to 1000 pairs in cliffs. The Cape Vulture usually remains within the foraging range, travelling over about 100 km from nesting and roosting sites. The juveniles may disperse over larger distances and form nursery areas outside the breeding colonies.
The Cape vulture’s life span in the wild is 15-25 years but they may live up to 70 years in captivity.
They are preyed on by leopards and jackals.
Cape vultures face a number of threats and, as a result, their populations are thought to be declining throughout much of their range.
A primary reason for these declines is poisoning. Farmers sometimes poison carcasses and leave them out to kill unwanted predators, such as leopards and jackals, but often the poison kills large groups of Cape vultures and other scavenging species that also feed on the carcass.
Collisions with power lines and vehicles are more recent dangers for the Cape vulture, as well as hunting for traditional medicine, human disturbance, and drowning in water tanks. In Namibia, mismanagement of rangelands has led to severe bush encroachment over large areas, and recent research has indicated that this has an adverse effect on their ability to find food.
Did you know?
- A group of Vultures is known as a ‘venue’ and when the group is seen in the air, circling together; it is called a ‘kettle’
- Vultures have incredible eyesight during the day which enables them to spot their prey while soaring through the sky; they can spot a large animal carcass from around 6 km away on open grassland or savanna plains
- Vultures also have a very well developed sense of smell which also helps them to find their food