Learn More about Cape Vultures

The Cape Vulture, also known as Kolbe’s Vulture, Cape Griffon, and Gyps coprotheres, is the third-largest Old-World vulture in the world. It is southern Africa’s only indigenous vulture species and South Africa’s largest raptor.

This vulture species was described in 1798 by European naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster. Apart from its striking physical characteristics, The Cape Vulture possesses a vast amount of character and intelligence. It is the highest-flying vulture, capable of flying a height of 8,000 meters. Its senses, specifically its eyesight, are impeccable—it is 20 times better than human beings. It can even see thermals, the movement of air molecules.

Although listed as endemic in southern Africa, Cape Vultures are already extinct in some places. The general population has been steadily declining ever since the 1980s, the year when it was listed as Threatened. From 1992 to 2007, the numbers decreased by 60-70% in South Africa.

In 2013, the total population stood at 4,700 pairs or 9,400 individuals. Although these birds appear to be dangerous, they are also victims of various threats, including electrocutions, collisions of energy constructions, poisoning, and persecution. They are hunted and killed for traditional medicine. They can also be poisoned by eating carcasses of animals that were poisoned by poachers. Thus, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorized the Cape Vulture as Endangered in 2015.

Its seven levels of scientific classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Gyps

Species: G. coprotheres

The physical characteristics of a Cape Vulture

An adult Cape Vulture possesses a creamy-buff plumage, blackish-brown flight feathers, and rectrices. There are also dark brown center patches on its scapulars and greater wing coverts.

Its underparts are paler, usually pale cream body and underwing coverts, making it appear almost white from a distance. Its head and neck are almost naked. Its eyes are yellow or reddish-brown, while the bill is black. There is a present white ruff at the base of its neck, which is black and white in color. Its nape is covered with fluffy white feathers. The Cape Vulture has bare legs and long, powerful talons, which are all black in color.

A female Cape Vulture is usually larger than the male. It grows for an average of 110 cm in length and weighs between 5 to 9 kilos. Its wingspan measures up to 255 cm.

The distribution and habitat of Cape Vultures

These birds of prey are only found in southern Africa, particularly in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. Back in the day, Cape Vultures also appear in Swaziland and Namibia. Vagrant Cape Vultures are also seen in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This vulture species occurs in open grasslands, arid savannahs, steppes, and near mountains, which provide thermal currents necessary for flight. Cape Vultures roost and breed on a cliff in or near mountains.

The diet of a Cape Vulture

Like other vultures, the Cape Vulture is a scavenger that eats large carcasses and takes fragments of soft muscles, bones, and organ tissues. They travel long distances in small groups to search for food. Using their superior eyesight, they can quickly locate food on the ground even when in flight.

Cape Vultures are vicious fighters—they will engage in a fight to steal other raptors’ food. They put their bare head and neck under the skin of a carcass, not missing every bit of meat.

The behavior and habits of a Cape Vulture

This vulture species likes taking regular baths in pools after feeding. Its bare skin and neck make it easy for them to remove the blood of the carcass. They are sociable and gregarious—roosting, breeding, and feeding together in vast flocks. Despite being sociable creatures, they are monogamous.

The breeding season happens from April to July. Both male and female Cape Vultures assemble the nest using sticks and dry grass. The female Cape Vulture only lays one egg, which will be incubated by both adults. After this, the egg will be hatched. The chick has white plumage. Both parents will take good care of the bird, feeding the chick by regurgitation. The young fledge for about 140 days. However, most young do not make it to the first year of their life. Only one-fifth of the chicks make it to adulthood.


Cape Vulture
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