Elephants and Vultures

Dr Michelle Henley and the GVI volunteers surveying a tree with a nest site.

By Michelle Henley

Every year Elephants Alive monitors large trees used by vultures and raptors as nesting sites for elephant impact. We are trying to determine if elephant impact on the trees compromise the nest survival rates in any way.

We started out monitoring all the nests in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve but were then invited to survey the rest of the Associated Private Nature Reserves which means that we now monitor over 200 trees annually. The trees themselves are evaluated according to the severity of elephant impact for various impact types such as Branches Broke to Access smaller plant parts (BBA), Bark Striping (BS), Uprooting (UR) and Main Stem snapping (MS). The nests are recorded as active or inactive while we also record if only remnants of a nest remain over time.

GPS tagged tree with vulture nest.

After weeks of trekking through kilometers of veld, the team managed to collate another year of unique ecological data depicting the current conservation status of vultures.

We have published our former results (see link) but hope to bring out more results covering a longer time span.  Preliminary results seem to indicate that there are different areas of the Reserves where clumps of vultures are doing better than others. Also, at some sites Knob Thorn trees are preferred while along rivers a greater diversity of tree species are selected for nest building.

White backed vulture nest.

We would like to thank Johna Turner for helping with these surveys year after year and for having a real interest in the work other than being one of the most experienced guides I know. Robbie, Ronnie, Leah, Zoe and Malene, you literally drove and walked the extra mile to help find trees and nests. Thank you to the Wardens of the APNR for marking the nesting spots from the air so that we could monitor them and others found from the ground.


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