The Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) weighs between 7.5 – 9.5 kg and has a wingspan of 2.55 m. Male and female birds look alike, even though females are slightly larger. Adult birds have a long naked and bluish neck. Their head is covered by hairy-like feathers and the neck ends in a large with ruff. On either side of the crop are two naked “eye”-patches of bluish skin.
The body feathers are creamy-white, but may become stained by local soil colours. Each white feather in the greater coverts has a central black spot, which is diagnostic for the species. The flight feathers are whitish from the underside with a narrow black tip, which is diagnostic when the bird is flying.
While adult birds have yellow eyes, the eye-color of juveniles is brown. The neck is coloured in pink, and the head is covered in white woolly down. The contour feathers of juvenile birds are pointed during the first years and streaked. The last row of the upperwing greater coverts are pointed and streaked white along the middle.
Cape Vultures scavenge on the muscle tissue, organs and viscera of medium to large carcasses. Originally, their main diet consisted of ungulates such as Springbok, Eland, Wildebeest or zebras. They also use carcasses of domestic livestock. The Cape Vulture has become more and more dependent on artificial restaurant sites for food supply.
Distribution and threat
The Cape Vulture is the only colonial South African vulture species nesting on cliffs. Its range is restricted to southern Africa, with breeding occuring in Botswana and South Africa. Breeding was recently reported to have ceased in Namibia. The formerly widespread population of about 440 breeding colonies in the early 1900s declined to about 167 at the end of the 20th century. The species is listed as vulnerable in the red list of the International Unit for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to ongoing population declines. Poisoning, power-line collision, hunting for the local traditional medicine market and declining food resources are the main threats to its existence.
Nowadays, about 3,400 breeding pairs exist in southern Africa, and a number of 18 core colonies hold about 80% of the world’s Cape Vulture population.
Adult birds are residential colonial cliff breeders that pair for life. Breeding starts in April to June. Cape Vultures lay a clutch of one egg only. After intensive parental care, fledging occurs between the end of October and mid-January. Juvenile birds stay near their colony until the next breeding season. They then start wandering from their natal colony and eventually, at the age of about six years, settle at a colony for breeding.
The formerly widespread population of about 440 breeding colonies in the early 1900s declined to about 167 at the end of the 20th century. Main threats are the loss of habitat, food shortage and direct persecution for the traditional medicine market. Collisions with powerlines are a major problem especially for young and unexperienced birds.
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