Cape vulture

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Cape vulture
Cape Vulture-001.jpg
A flying cape vulture at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng, South Africa
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Gyps
G. coprotheres
Binomial name
Gyps coprotheres
(Forster, 1798)[2]

Gyps kolbii

The Cape vulture or Cape griffon (Gyps coprotheres), also known as "Kolbe's vulture", is an Old World vulture in the family Accipitridae. It is endemic to southern Africa, and lives mainly in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, and in some parts of northern Namibia. It nests on cliffs and lays one egg per year. In 2015, it had been classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, but was down-listed to Vulnerable in 2021 as some populations increased and have been stable since about 2016.[1]


At Giants Castle, KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, South Africa
The illustration of Cape vulture skeleton (1904)

This large vulture is of a creamy-buff colour, with contrasting dark flight- and tail-feathers. The adult is paler than the juvenile, and its underwing coverts can appear almost white at a distance. The head and neck are near-naked. The eyes are yellowish, and the bill is black. Juveniles and immatures are generally darker and more streaked, with brown to orange eyes and red neck.[1]

The average length of adult birds is about 96–115 cm (38–45 in) with a wingspan of 2.26–2.6 m (7 ft 5 in – 8 ft 6 in) and a body weight of 7–11 kg (15–24 lb). The two prominent bare skin patches at the base of the neck, also found in the white-backed vulture, are thought to be temperature sensors and used for detecting the presence of thermals. The species is among the largest raptors in Africa, next to the lappet-faced vulture. With a mean body mass of roughly 8.9 to 9.22 kg (19.6 to 20.3 lb), it appears to be significantly heavier than wild lappet-faced vultures, despite the latter's extremely large appearance, and rivals only a few other species, namely the great white pelican and kori bustard, as the largest flying bird native to Africa.[3][4][5] After the Himalayan griffon vulture and the cinereous vulture, the Cape vulture is the third largest Old World vulture. on average[6][7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]


The Cape vulture is resident and breeding in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa, but is vagrant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. It also occurs in Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini but does not breed there.[1]

It usually breeds and roosts on cliff faces in or near mountains,[8] and has been recorded up to an elevation of 3,100 m (10,200 ft).[1] In South Africa's Eastern Cape, Cape vultures were more likely to use nest sites on ledges with a smaller depth and at a higher elevation, surrounded by conspecifics.[9] Tracked individuals in Namibia had home ranges of 11,800–22,500 km2 (4,600–8,700 sq mi).[10]

Conservation and threats[edit]

The Cape vulture has been declining steadily since at least the 1980s, when it was first categorized as Threatened. Between 1992 and 2007 the species declined by 60-70% in South Africa alone.[1] By 2021, the total population size was estimated about 9,600 to 12,800 mature individuals, and it was assessed as Vulnerable.[1]

The species is considered to be impacted by a number of threats. A decrease in the amount of large carrion particularly during nesting, targeted or inadvertent poisoning, loss of foraging habitat, and unsustainable harvesting for traditional uses are thought to be the most important factors. A source of poisoning specific to many vultures, including the Cape vulture, is the drug Diclofenac and related compounds, which is used to treat arthritis in cattle, and which leads to kidney failure in vultures who consume carcasses of treated cattle.[1] Electrocution resulting from collision with cables on electricity pylons is the most common cause of death in ringed birds.[10]

On the 20th of June 2019, the carcasses of 468 white-backed vultures, 17 white-headed vultures, 28 hooded vultures, 14 lappet-faced vultures and 10 cape vultures, altogether 537 vultures, besides 2 tawny eagles, were found in northern Botswana. It is suspected that they died after eating the carcasses of 3 elephants that were poisoned by poachers, possibly to avoid detection by the birds, which help rangers to track poaching activity by circling above where there are dead animals.[11][12][13][14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h BirdLife International (2021). "Gyps coprotheres". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2021: e.T22695225A197073171. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-3.RLTS.T22695225A197073171.en. Retrieved 10 December 2021.
  2. ^ Forster, J. R. (1798). "Le Chasse-siente, der Rothjäger. No. 10 (V. Coprotheres)". F. le Vaillant's Naturgeschichte der afrikanischen Vögel. Halle: Fried. Christoph Dreyssig. pp. 35–37.
  3. ^ Dunning, John B. Jr., ed. (2008). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses (2nd ed.). CRC Press. ISBN 978-1-4200-6444-5.
  4. ^ Mendelsohn, J.M., Kemp, A.C., Biggs, H.C., Biggs, R., & Brown, C.J. (1989). Wing areas, wing loadings and wing spans of 66 species of African raptors. Ostrich, 60(1), 35-42.
  5. ^ Komen, J., & Brown, C. J. (1993). Food requirements and the timing of breeding of a Cape vulture colony. Ostrich, 64(2), 86-92.
  6. ^ James Ferguson-Lees; Christie; Franklin; Mead; Burton (2001), Raptors of the World, Houghton-Mifflin, ISBN 0-618-12762-3
  7. ^ "Cape vulture facts". Archived from the original on 2008-10-16.
  8. ^ Mundy, P.J.; Benson, P.C. & Allan, D.G. (1997). "Cape Vulture Kransaalvoël Gyps coprotheres". In Harrison, J.A.; Allan, D.G.; Underhill, L.G.; Herremans, M.; Tree, A.J.; Parker, V. & Brown, C. (eds.). The Atlas of southern African birds. Vol. Non–passerines. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa. pp. 158–159. ISBN 9780620207294.
  9. ^ Pfeiffer, M. B.; Venter, J. A.; Downs, C. T. (2017). "Cliff characteristics, neighbour requirements and breeding success of the colonial Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres". Ibis. 159 (1): 26–37. doi:10.1111/ibi.12428.
  10. ^ a b Simmons, R. E.; Brown, C. J.; Kemper, J. (2015). Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species. Windhoek, Namibia: Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and The Namibian Nature Foundation.
  11. ^ "Over 500 Rare Vultures Die After Eating Poisoned Elephants In Botswana". Agence France-Press. NDTV. 2019-06-21. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  12. ^ Hurworth, Ella (2019-06-24). "More than 500 endangered vultures die after eating poisoned elephant carcasses". CNN. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  13. ^ Solly, Meilan (2019-06-24). "Poachers' Poison Kills 530 Endangered Vultures in Botswana". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-06-28.
  14. ^ Ngounou, Boris (2019-06-27). "BOTSWANA: Over 500 vultures found dead after massive poisoning". Afrik21. Retrieved 2019-06-28.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]