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  • Bruce, Judy, Justin and Sabre. I am so sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I have no excuse. However, I do want to thank you for the wonderful experience I had while at your place. Your place had to be the highlight of the trip. And thank you for making the cake for my birthday. That was so nice. Also thank you to Justin and Sabre for giving up their Sunday. By now you have probably forgotten who I am. Hello to mamasinna (?spelling) and Thankyou for all the good food. Did your son ever get his papers he needed? Should have stayed in Africa-we've had no spring and its pouring today. Looks like we may not even get a summer. No point in complaining-BUT. Also enjoyed the talks you did in the evenings around the fire. Once again thank you so much.. Regards Linda Lamb
    - Linda Lamb, Canada
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Vulture Culture

Published 17 September 2012 under Travelogue • Comments: 1
Vulture Culture
If you drive to Klaserie Game Reserve via the Able Erasmus Pass you will no doubt blow the horn as you drive  through the tunnel, marvel at the difference in temperature as you enter the “Lowveld” and breathe in deeply, savouring in the aroma of the bush. Next time you should take time to also look right; up onto the soaring cliffs of Manutsa Mountain where the red ochre rock face is streaked with the white excrement of the 450 active nesting sites of this Cape Vulture colony. 
The Cape Vulture is the only cliff nesting vulture in our area. The birds in this colony are fortunate to live close to the Greater Kruger where food in the form of carcasses is plentiful. However the proximity to a food source will mean very little to the Cape Vulture that has specialized in travelling great distances and living a semi nomadic existence for part of the year.  In the breeding season and when the chicks are in the nest, both the male and female are almost home bound and hugely attentive parents. Somehow this representation of a vulture does not quite relate with the accepted image of these large scavenging birds with a grotesque posture squabbling over the pickings at a smelly carcass in the bush.  If this image is incongruous then try this; much like a swan is a picture of elegance on the water, vultures are masters of the sky, fascinating in flight, but sadly are often so high they are difficult to see. The creamy plumage of the Cape Vulture shapes a broad and long wing with slotted wing tips. The broad wing provides a larger surface area for the warm air rising within a thermal to lift the heavy bird into the sky while the slotted wing tips are there to facilitate the tight turning into the circles of a thermal and also allow the bird to fly slowly without stalling. With a wing structure adapted to soaring effortlessly, taking off is entirely another matter and requires a long run way and a swift breeze to get these bulky birds airborne.  
The cliff-nesting Cape Vulture has a smaller and more common cousin in the White-backed Vulture. Their untidy nests, consisting of a platform of sticks on the top of a tree canopy, are a familiar sight in the Lowveld. These two vultures appear very similar although the Cape is much bigger than the White-backed. Both are classed as Old World vultures and have strong curved beaks and a deeply grooved tongue with backwards pointing barbs adept at scooping the viscera from inside the carcass and at stripping meat from the bone. Both species fly at high altitudes and scan the ground for carcasses while watching eagles and other vultures flying at lower altitudes. The White-backed Vulture can cruise at 60 km per hour at 2000 m above sea level and cover large distances in an environment where food is scattered and scarce. They are exclusively carrion feeders and are not physically capable of killing as eagles are.
The impressive Lappet-faced Vulture plays an important role in the drama that unfolds at a carcass and especially one where the animal has died of natural causes and not predation. This is because of the massive bill these vultures possess that easily breaks into the tough hide of a carcass. They fly at low altitudes and are often one of the first species to arrive at a carcass. White-headed Vultures are similar sized and adapted to getting inside carcasses making it more accessible for other scavengers.  These beautiful birds favour Baobab trees for their nesting sites. Less typical are the Hooded Vultures that have adapted well to rural Africa and like Marabou storks frequent rubbish dumps and even the inner villages hopping around and foraging like a chicken. This, the smallest and least vigorous of vultures has a featherless head with a slender hooked beak that is able to probe into fine bone crevices for morsels of meat and marrow. It is forced by the more dominant birds to hang around the periphery of carcass and rush in for scraps. Due to their lowly status, the Hooded Vulture is often the first at a kill pecking away at the soft parts of the carcass. They are also adapted to eating termites and catching lizards where they can.
There are nine species of vulture in Southern Africa and seven of these are endangered. Apart from the more obvious reasons such as habitat destruction and human impact, much of the basis for their decline is almost unique to vultures as a species. Vultures cover enormous distances and are for the most part out of protected areas. Here they fall prey to poisoning, both deliberate and inadvertent. Their body parts are sought after as traditional medicine or muti for the alleged clairvoyant properties of vulture parts. Farmers until recently remained convinced that vultures were responsible for killing their livestock and recent effort to educate farmers has resulted in Vulture Restaurants and responsible farming practices. Furthermore, while taking off and landing these heavy birds battle to gain altitude and sometimes collide with power lines. They also perch on pylons and become electrocuted.  In conjunction with EWT and other concerned bodies, Eskom has gone to great lengths to develop vulture-friendly electric pylons
Vultures live to about 25 years; they pair for life and only raise one chick a year. They play a vital role in the ecosystem by preventing the spread of disease. While some species are widespread, the Cape Vulture is near endemic to Southern Africa and like the other six endangered species needs our active intervention in this downward spiral of vulture numbers.
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