Olivia, a young Bearded Vulture that was part of the ongoing Maluti Drakensberg Vulture Tracking Project lead by Ecologist Sonja Krüger, is dead.
What makes the loss of this bird doubly sad is the inspirational alliance with the Tracking Project that took place when Olivia Taylor, now a 15-year-old scholar from Durban, fell under the spell of the plight of our Bearded Vultures as an 11-year-old and committed to raise funds for the project. You can read her story here.
The fund raising efforts were so significant that a young female bearded vulture captured and fitted with a tracking device in August 2009 were later named after this young fundraiser to celebrate her extraordinary achievements and contributions to the Bearded Vulture Tracking project.
At the end of March this year, the team monitoring the movements of the tagged bearded vultures noticed that Olivia has been stationary for a while, which meant that she was either dead or her tracking device had come off. After two failed attempts, a third attempt to retrieve the transmitter carried by Olivia was successfully made in mid May. Olivia’s carcass was brought back to South Africa for an autopsy to determine the cause of her death. X-rays revealed no broken bones or lead fragments that would indicate her having been shot. Because her carcass was in an advanced state of decay, the tests for poison were inconclusive, but to my mind still the most probable cause of death.
In the press release about Olivia’s death, the Project Team expressed the need for quicker reaction to retrieve the carcasses of tagged birds so that the cause of death can be conclusive.
To date, three Breaded Vultures fitted with tracking devices have died from poisoning and one died after colliding with a powerline. Four birds killed out of 17 monitored paints a shocking picture of the mortality rate facing these rare birds.
In the photograph one can see the tracking device still located on Olivia's back. The photograph was taken by one of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife recovery team members.