The edge of the ledge – don’t look down!

Clive Walker, Founder

My entry into the world of vultures was at the invitation by John for me to spend a Saturday morning with the group in the Magaliesberg to the north of Johannesburg. My hosts were businessman Russel Friedman and a well-known ornithologist called Dr Peter Mundy. I had no idea what I was in for. Upon arrival at a private farm, I found a group with binoculars and telescopes sitting in deck chairs, scanning a rugged mountain landscape. Waiting for me was Russel Friedman, who was to escort me to the cliff face. I had not planned on climbing anywhere, and Russel looked like one of those disaster volunteers who rescued people in distress. I was about to be a victim. We headed to base, with me now wearing a helmet and beginning to feel I had shown too much enthusiasm.

What began as a gentle walk soon became an increasingly steep climb through grass and stunted bush, which turned into a rock face. Eventually, we reached a high running ledge with incredible views of Johannesburg in the distance and a man clad in a helmet with metres of rope wrapped around his neck. It was none other than Dr Mundy, doyen of the vulture world. Sitting on a narrow ledge flying vultures could be seen up close as they wheeled on spectacular widespread wings, and I knew then why these volunteers risked life and limb for them. However, when a large chick was pointed out to me, and I looked down, I realised, with horror, how high up we were and that the only way down was using the rope around Peter’s neck. I felt instantly ill and grateful that I wasn’t one of those volunteers.

Suffice it to say I never accepted another invitation from Dr Ledger, but after witnessing such passion and commitment from a group of volunteers for wildlife, I could not wait to get back down to earth and urge the board to support the Vulture Study Group. The board agreed, and a long and fruitful relationship took flight.


Filmstrip of members of the vulture study group in 1976

The brave volunteers of the Vulture Study Group. 1976