RPC continues crucial role in vulture conservation

Photo - Supplied / Gameplan Media

The upcoming Rhino Peak Challenge on World Rhino Day, 22 September, will see a group of 24 people, varying from elite ultra-trail athletes to celebrities and influencers, tackle the famous Rhino Peak in the Southern Drakensberg hoping to grow awareness and raise funds for the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

The 2016 edition of the event managed to raise a staggering R 290 000 for its primary beneficiary, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). The trust used these funds to manage and support a variety of projects involved in the conservation of the rhino and the Bearded Vulture.

Amongst these projects was the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Programme, which raises chicks in captivity before releasing them into the wild.

Dr Sonja Krüger, who has been in charge of the Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, has been monitoring the endangered Bearded Vulture since 2000.

Having donned her walking boots and tackled the Rhino Peak in 2016, Krüger, an ecologist with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who heads up the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Programme, has returned to take on the event once again.

“Being in the conservation sector often means that we are constantly scratching around for money and that was the case with the breeding program, we were unable to sustain ourselves because we didn’t have funding,” Krüger mentioned.

“Having started the program in 2015 we were under huge threat due to the lack of funds that we had at our disposal.

“Last year the Rhino Peak Challenge was instrumental in us getting much-needed funding and it is great that we are involved again this year.

“I have approached a lot of friends and family again this year for pledges, so hopefully we will have another great year.”

Despite only being involved in the Rhino Peak Challenge for one year, Krüger has already seen the tangible effects of the money that they received.

“We used the money to support our efforts to breed the Bearded Vulture in captivity and we have had two eggs hatch in the last year which is a great sign.

“Although it might only be two eggs, we know that there is a much bigger, long-term goal in mind and any sort of assistance is hugely appreciated,” she added.

The conditions on the Rhino Peak in 2016 were difficult with howling winds proving to be a problem and although Krüger is hoping for milder weather she feels the hike is part of a bigger picture.

“I feel that doing the walk is a small price to pay in order to protect a hugely endangered species,” Krüger commented.

Joining Krüger from the field of conservation are the likes of Dr Jacques Flamand, Zama Ncube, Dennis Kelly, Shane Raw and Deidre Herbst.

Herbst is the Environmental Manager of Eskom and is passionate about reducing the negative environmental footprint and making a difference in South Africa specifically related to water, biodiversity and clean air.

She took up the challenge as a chance to demonstrate her passion for sustainability, specifically the role of biodiversity and the important role played by vultures in the ecosystem.

Eskom has a partnership with Endangered Wildlife Trust which focuses on reducing the impact of power lines on birds.