Dr. Mike the Cape Vulture

On 3 October 2021, the Lowveld BOPP team was alerted that a Cape Vulture had been found grounded on Licata Nature Reserve, northwest of Hoedspruit. The bird was initially found at sunset by the reserve wardens’ son, Stuart Reid, and although it was unclear why it could not fly, it was speculated that the bird sustained a wing injury at some point.

We arranged to collect the bird immediately after approval from LEDET, and it was taken through to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, where it was stabilised and monitored overnight by Nikkita Jackson and Rebecca Lambert. The staff there have always put an exceptional amount of effort into the rehabilitation of birds of prey and have been important allies in the past with dealing with poisoned and injured birds. The following morning, we took the bird to ProVet for x-rays, where it was immediately established that the bird had suffered a bad break to its right metacarpal. Following some emergency arrangements with LEDET, MTPA and the State Veterinary Department, we moved the bird to White River Animal Hospital, where Dr Bennie Pienaar, Dr Karien Prinsloo, and Dr Mike York did an incredible job at pinning the wing. Considering the severity of the break, it was hard to be completely confident that the bird would make a full recovery, but fortunately, the procedure was a success, and the bird could start the next part of its journey.

From here, it was then taken to Dullstroom Birds of Prey Centre, where Magdali Theron and Frith Douglas spent the next few months working their magic to get the bird back to fitness and ready to release. This is not always an easy process, and particularly at the beginning, the birds require a great deal of attention to prevent re-injury of the wing before it has fully healed. After a successful stint in the clinic, it was time to remove the bandages and the pins before placing him in one of the outside enclosures with three other Cape Vultures, two of which are non-releasable, and the third is still being rehabilitated. Fortunately, the entire process had gone incredibly well, and over the following six weeks, the bird slowly began to build up some muscle mass again until he was ready for release.

The BOPP team met up in Dullstroom on 28 January 2022 to give the bird a final check and attach a tracking device and identification ring before finally releasing it. This process could not have gone any better, and the bird immediately shot off and glided through the valley and into the distance, a great success after so much effort from several people. Although it’s still early days for this Dr Mike, he has already flown a significant distance, heading straight back to the colony at Manoutsa, popping into Mozambique, and spending some time near Shingwedzi in the Kruger National ParkThe case of Dr Mike highlights the value of collaboration between protected area management, veterinary clinics, rehabilitation centres, and conservation organisations. In combination with state-of-the-art GPS tracking, this network ensures the effective rescue, recovery, and safe release of injured birds back into the wild, where they can once again sail through the African skies. With the current declines vultures are experiencing across Africa, every individual counts. Thanks to all who played a role in the rescue and rehabilitation of this magnificent bird.

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