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Soaring with SAFE: African Vultures

By Kayla Ripple
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Conservation collaboration within the AZA community continues to grow through SAFE. Through the development of three-year SAFE Program Plans, our members set priorities and build strategies that garner multi-institutional support and engagement. The SAFE African Vulture Program Plan was approved in March 2018, and is helping to conserve six species of African vulture threatened with extinction. The program identified priorities for African vulture population monitoring, poisoning prevention, collision prevention, rehabilitation, public engagement, fundraising, and capacity building in range countries. Considerable progress has been made in just six months, targeting four countries of high conservation significance for African vultures – Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa. Four new Program Partners have joined during this time, for a total of 14 AZA-accredited institutions currently unified in African vulture conservation priorities. Here’s a glance at what our members and collaborators have been up to!

New mass survey efforts are underway to assess populations in previously understudied areas. These include helicopter surveys of Ruppell’s vulture cliff nests in Northern Kenya and surveys through the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania – Africa’s largest game reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Six students are supported in all four target countries to further these research efforts, and a groundbreaking study updating the status of vultures in Botswana was published recently.

Community groups and rangers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Botswana were trained in efforts to reduce poisoning, as well as in the use of telemetry studies to assess vulture mortality rates. Efforts to mitigate collisions with powerlines are underway in Kenya and South Africa, where the threat is greatest. Rehabilitation and captive breeding projects have resulted in the release of over 50 vultures in South Africa.

The program is raising awareness in the U.S. by developing materials that zoos, aquariums, and partners can incorporate into their conservation communications. On September 1, International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) engaged more than 110 organizations globally and at least 14 AZA-accredited institutions, reaching over 2 million people. Surveys after IVAD revealed that these efforts helped to improve the awareness and attitudes of guests towards vultures. Next year, the team hopes to develop and include materials detailing how our guests can contribute directly to these conservation efforts.

The SAFE African vulture program aligned their strategies with the Convention on Migratory Species’ Multi-Species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian vultures. Using these priorities, the team outlined clear methodologies that have allowed them to contribute $100,000 to projects currently, and secure funding to build the projects further. Three projects were awarded funding through the AZA Conservation Grants Fund and two were awarded funding through National Geographic’s “Recovering Species on the Brink of Extinction” grant program for work in 2019.

Saving a species (let alone six) can be hard work, but the SAFE African vulture team is well on their way to getting there. There are many opportunities to be involved in helping to implement the SAFE African Vulture Program Plan. Please contact Corinne Kendall and Graeme Patterson, or reach out to SAFE@aza.org to learn how you can become a Program Partner for the SAFE African vulture program.

Originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Connect Magazine. 

Photo Credit: © Corinne Kendall, North Carolina Zoo

Kayla Ripple is the AZA SAFE Coordinator

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