Namibia: Vultures of the Namib and Uranium Mining

PROSPECTING and mining for uranium can be added to the list of possible impacts on vultures in Namibia, according to Peter Bridgeford of the Vultures Namibia Organisation.

One of the biggest killers of vultures in Namibia though, is the indiscriminate use of poison. Generally, vultures are not deliberately targeted, but this phenomenon has been recorded in Namibia, Botswana and other neighbouring countries. Destruction of habitat, for example slash-and-burn farming methods; chopping down of large trees along rivers where vultures nest; disturbance at nesting sites and electrocution on high-voltage power lines are some of the many other dangers faced by vultures in our country.

The Namib Desert is the main breeding area of lappet-faced vultures. The nests of these large birds are found from the Orange to the Kunene Rivers, with the highest concentration between the Swakop and Kuiseb Rivers.

It is here and north of the Swakop River where the uranium rush is now taking place.

“Fortunately, for the vultures, the new mining areas and proposed mines are at present to the west of the main breeding sites. Prospecting and drilling has occurred and is continuing in the main vulture breeding area further east. The mining companies are aware of the vultures, but to date, no negative effects of this disturbance have been recorded,” said Bridgeford. “This is good news, but changing breeding trends often lag behind the period of disturbance.”

The monitoring of the breeding of these important scavengers will continue. During 2009, Swakop Uranium donated funds to Vultures Namibia for the aerial survey and ringing of the breeding vultures. In 2008, Rössing Uranium also contributed to the project.

Vultures Namibia ringed a record number of 88 lappet-faced vulture chicks in the Namib-Naukluft Park during the past season. After the annual aerial survey of 20 hours, to find the occupied nests of the breeding birds, teams of volunteers went into the park in October to ring the chicks at the nest. Only unfledged birds were ringed. The chicks are fitted with numbered metal rings on one leg and then a yellow, plastic tag, also numbered, is attached to the right wing. Identification in the field is easy with the aid of binoculars or telescopes. The public is asked to assist by reporting any marked birds seen, by contacting pmbridge@iway.na.

“We require the date and place, and of course the tag number, as well as an accurate description of the place or GPS co-ordinates if possible,” said Bridgeford.

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