What is a Vulture Safe Zone?
In a southern African context, a Vulture Safe Zone has been defined as “an appropriately sized geographic area in which targeted conservation measures are undertaken to address the key threats relevant to the vulture species present. VSZ are developed in southern Africa as an approach to complement national and international efforts to reduce the impact of existing and emerging threats to stabilise and promote recovery of existing vulture populations.”
Initially implemented by countries in Asia (where vulture populations were decimated by use of the veterinary drug diclofenac) and recently in Zambia, Vulture Safe Zones offer conservation solutions that are effective, realistic and achievable at grassroots level. The reasons for vulture declines in Africa are varied and complex, and the application of Vulture Safe Zones should be adapted to reflect this complexity. The campaign focuses on private property owners within the borders of South Africa, who will be asked to sign a pledge in which they undertake to manage their properties in a vulture-friendly manner.
The agreements will follow a practical approach, with property owners committing to ensure that, amongst others:
- All electricity pylons in the Vulture Safe Zone are fitted with measures or designed to prevent vulture electrocutions and/or collisions;
- Water reservoirs are modified to prevent drowning;
- Breeding vultures (whether cliff or tree nesting) are protected from disturbance;
- All carcasses provided as supplementary food at vulture restaurants are lead- and contaminant-free;
- Poison is not used as a deterrent to mammalian predators such as jackal and caracal;
- Lead-free ammunition is used to cull game/livestock;
- All vulture populations are monitored;
- Any vulture mortalities are reported to BirdLife South Africa.
One of the biggest challenges facing vulture conservation in South Africa (as is the case elsewhere in Africa) is the fact that vultures cover enormous distances, often in one day, with no regard for country borders. Any attempt at conservation will have to be cognisant of the fact that a vulture protected in one region may not benefit from such protection in another. It is therefore vital that cross-border collaboration be promoted, as had been done between Lesotho and South Africa for the benefit of the Bearded Vulture. The establishment of Vulture Safe Zones is a practical, grassroots level approach that could be implemented in all countries to safeguard nesting sites and minimise threats around sites within the SADC region.