ADVENTURES IN ROCKJUMPER RESEARCH

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Bird of the Year

BirdLife South Africa has chosen the endangered Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos as the Bird of the Year for 2017 to highlight the numerous threats and challenges faced by all of Africa’s vulture species, including poisoning, collisions with and electrocutions on powerlines, as well as drowning in farm reservoirs. BirdLife South Africa and its partners are involved with several conservation initiatives aimed at assisting Africa’s declining vulture populations. Lappet-faced Vultures are distributed across the dry savanna habitats of Africa, however, they have been extirpated or become locally extinct across large areas of the continent. The Lappet-faced Vulture is one of the more charismatic vulture species with its large size (wingspan of up to 2.9m), dark back and wings which contrast with its white thighs, a face and throat covered by bare red skin and a heavy set bill. Lappet-faced Vultures use their strong bills to tear open carcasses of large mammals and in doing so allow vulture species with smaller beaks access into the rest of the carcass. Vultures play a vital ecological role by consuming carcasses of dead animals, thus assisting in the cycling of nutrients from the dead animal back into the ecosystem and preventing the spread of diseases such as rabies.

BirdLife South Africa has awarded the 2017 Bird of the Year to the Lappet-faced Vulture, the largest member of Africa’s natural clean-up crew. Lappet-faced Vultures are endangered and their population is facing steep declines across the continent. To highlight the importance of saving not only the Lappet-faced Vultures, but all of Africa’s vulture species facing similar threats, BirdLife South Africa in collaboration with Chrissie Cloete, ChrissieCanDraw, have developed a series of education tools and lesson plans for ages 9-12 years (the lessons can be adapted for younger students too) designed to teach learners about the life cycle of vultures, the important roles they play in ecosystems and the threats they face. Lesson plans include links to informative videos, fact sheets, board games and playing cards. All lessons provide a fun platform for learners to engage and explore themes linked to conservation, ecology, the environment and understanding vulture life history strategies.