VulPro celebrates 14 years of vulture conservation

VulPro, the vulture rehabilitation centre in Hartbeespoort celebrates its 14th birthday this year and has established itself as one of the leading vulture conservation organisations in the world.

White-headed vulture at VulPro

VulPro is just one of just two vulture breeding facilities on the African continent committed to releasing captive-bred offspring to the wild. “The need for more such programmes in Africa is still immense, but I am hugely proud of being part of the generation that is ‘doing it’ for conservation. VulPro is continuing to grow and expand its conservation efforts, for which it is being recognised on a global scale,” VulPro founder and chief executive Kerri Wolter says.

VulPro was founded in 2007 for the purpose of conserving southern Africa’s rapidly declining vulture species, and to advance knowledge, awareness and innovation in the conservation of African vulture populations for the benefit and well-being of society.

“VulPro was founded on the background that vultures everywhere on the sub-continent were facing growing threats that included deliberate and indirect poisoning, power line injuries, electrocutions, persecution, nutritional disease and deficiencies, and habitat loss. This resulted in numbers of several vulture populations plummeting to unsustainable levels and several species featuring as “critically endangered” or “endangered” on the Red List of Birds.”

When the organisation was set up, its primary function was as a vulture rehabilitation and release centre. The focus was on proactive management through education, mitigating the dangers associated with power lines through various discussions and initiatives, and providing supplementary feeding sites. Since then, however, VulPro has expanded its activities significantly, and in particular, has developed and implemented a breeding programme that involves both the release of captive-bred birds and an evaluation of the efficacy of this programme.”

“Another important activity is the monitoring of vulture breeding behaviour under controlled conditions, an activity that is simply not as feasible in their natural cliff- and tree-breeding sites.”

VulPro’s work is ground-breaking and showcases an all-encompassing, scientific and conservation-enhancing way how each individual bird counts towards saving wild populations.

“Every single bird we can save is essential to the survival of the species,” Kerri says. “VulPro faces many challenges and we are often asked questions about our ex-situ programmes and whether funding should not be better spent preserving the species in the wild. It’s always been the great debate: do we save the species, or allow them to die with dignity?’

VulPro believes in a multi-faceted and all-encompassing strategy where conservation action is needed both in the wild as well as in captivity. “A holistic approach – like that adopted for the California Condor – is the future of many conservation programmes, and VulPro is extremely proud to be at the forefront of leading this holistic vulture conservation approach on the African continent, and particularly in southern Africa.”

“Our successes all come down to the continued belief in, and support for, the organisation by its many committed supporters. It’s because of them that we’re in fact able to continue our fight for the plight of Africa’s vultures – and it’s because of them that we are indeed making headway in saving these magnificent birds. It is ordinary people who hold the key to vultures’ survival, and that means educating them about these amazing, beautiful, enigmatic and unique birds.”