Many of the big bird species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species under the status of vulnerable, near threatened or endangered. These include, but are not limited to Blue Cranes, Secretary Birds, Vultures and a few of the Bustard species. One of the major threats to these large terrestrial birds are power lines and energy infrastructure.
The Blue Crane is listed on the global IUCN Red List as Vulnerable because of the declines in their grassland habitats. (Image supplied)
Since 1996 Eskom and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) have worked together to address this concern. Their strategic partnership focuses on identifying ‘problem’ power lines that present a risk for collision and electrocution to the above mentioned bird species. EWT and Eskom personnel investigate a reported incident. Mitigation measures of the incident, be it a collision or an electrocution, are then discussed and decided upon. Eskom then works to make the line or pole ‘bird friendly’.
When making a line or structure bird friendly, Eskom either puts bird flappers up (if the line poses a collision risk) or changes the structure of the poles to avoid an electrocution from occurring again. This process only takes up to two to four weeks after the incident has been reported.
Making power lines ‘bird friendly’ in the Camdeboo Conservancy, MZCPE. (Picture: Danielle du Toit)
The Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) has partnered with the EWT to mitigate mortalities of these large birds. The MZCPE with assistance from the GEF-5 PA Project played an integral role in connecting farmers and other private landowners with EWT. The MZCPE is encouraging landowners in the area to report collisions or electrocutions of all wildlife in order to secure the structures that pose a threat not only to birds but any other species.
Trenly Spence, a landowner in the MZCPE has reported a few of these power line incidents. “It is always tragic to lose big birds to power lines,” he said. But he was impressed with the efficiency and speed with which the problem was resolved by MZCPE, EWT and Eskom.
A Secretary Bird that flew into a power line. (Picture: Joseph Ott)
Blue Crane chick, by protecting the old, the young ones will survive. (Image: Bronwyn Botha)
The Karoo Vulture Safe Zone (KVSZ) project, a partnership between landowners and multiple conservation organisations, focuses on mitigating all threats to Cape Vultures within a 23 000 km² area between the Karoo National Park in the west and the Mountain Zebra National Park in the east. The KVSZ project is managed by the EWT Birds of Prey Programme, It identified power lines as one of the most dangerous threats to vultures apart from poisoning, drowning in farm reservoirs and lead poisoning. These threats also apply to many other large terrestrial birds.
The Cape Vulture is listed as Endangered on the global IUCN Red List. (Image supplied)
At the beginning of 2021, two Cape Vultures got electrocuted on poles in the Camdeboo Conservancy in the MZCPE. According to MZCPE farmer, Sholto Kroon, the only positive from the unfortunate discovery of the two electrocuted Cape Vultures on the Klipdrift farm is the proof that they actually still occur in the area. “It seems to me that the vulture initiative has created an awareness that has invited them back to the Karoo,” he said.
If it was not for the awareness created by the MZCPE and the KVSZ project, many of these incidents would go unnoticed. However, the partnerships between the different organisations and the landowners prevent more threatened species losing their lives unnecessarily.
Secretary Birds – one of the vulnerable big bird species that often get reported in power line incidents in the area. (Image: Taryn Scholtz)
For more information about Birds and Power lines or to report a power line incident, contact Ronelle Visagie (EWT – Birds of Prey Programme) at RonelleV@EWT.org and/or Danielle du Toit (EWT – Karoo Vulture Safe Zone project) at firstname.lastname@example.org.