Returning the Cape Vulture to its Original Habitat in the Karoo

April 15, 2021

Efforts are underway to protect the endangered Cape Vulture from extinction. Karoo landowners have partnered with the Rupert Nature Foundation, South African National Parks (SANParks), the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE), Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the SANParks Honorary Rangers to create a Vulture Safe Zone (VSZ) in the Great Karoo. This partnership can be regarded as one of the largest conservation initiatives in the area.


The Cape Vulture is endemic to southern Africa, and is found mainly in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, and in some parts of northern Namibia. It nests on cliffs and lays one egg per year. (Image: Ziggi Hugo)

The Karoo Vulture Safe Zone (KVSZ) spans across approximately 23,000 square kilometres in and around three major protected areas: namely the Karoo, Camdeboo and Mountain Zebra National Parks as well as the MZCPE. Over ninety percent of this area is privately owned. 

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The idea was initiated by a small group of landowners of the Camdeboo Conservancy in 2016. The long-term goal is to encourage Cape Vultures back to their historical ranges throughout the Great Karoo and ultimately recover this population through the establishment of a VSZ that links key protected areas. 


Danielle du Toit (EWT Karoo Vulture Safe Zone project) and Willem Wagener, the first private land owner to commit to be a ‘Vulture Safe’ farm. Toorberg mountain in the background is a historic breeding site for Cape Vultures. (Image: Luzahn Wagener)

The project consists of two phases. The first phase is underway since 2020 with the project team working actively with over 400 landowners to identify and address threats to the Cape Vulture occurring on individual properties. Once the assessment is complete, phase two sets in, which is the mitigation of the threats identified in phase one. The project team will assist each landowner to make his/her property ‘vulture safe’. This includes working with Eskom through a strategic partnership with EWT to mitigate unsafe power lines and energy infrastructure, covering or putting ladder-like infrastructure in farm reservoirs to avoid drownings, eradicating the use of poisons (especially for problem predator control) and creating awareness and increasing knowledge on the importance of vultures in the ecosystem to avoid persecution of the species on the basis of unfounded accusations. 

KVSZ logo

The MZCPE with assistance from the GEF-5 PA Project played an integral role in connecting farmers and other private landowners with EWT and other organisations and scientists that now work together. The MZCPE continues to play an important role in facilitating and supporting the project. 

Over the past two years, awareness of the KVSZ has been spread through the implementation of other projects that are part of MZCPE’s management plan as well as emails, brochures, presentations and at farmer’s association meetings. The MZCPE, together with the Rupert Nature Foundation, recently facilitated a training day on the treatment of injured and ill raptors where the Karoo VSZ project was also presented to attendees. 


Some of the MZCPE land owners attending an information day about the KVSZ. From left to right Jaco Loots (Chairman of the MZCPE landowners association), Paul Merrifield, Trenly Spence and R. Slater (Compassberg Protected Environment). (Image: Maryke Stern)

The EWT Birds of Prey Programme, in charge of the operations of the KVSZ project, has recently employed an intern who is conducting surveys with landowners. These surveys are part of the first phase of the KVSZ project and help to understand the threats to Cape Vultures as well as other raptor species on each property. Currently, 400 000 hectares have committed to becoming ‘vulture safe’ by landowners within the proposed project area. 

For more information about the KVSZ project, please contact Danielle du Toit on 071 599 0127 or