Rehabilitated vultures still struggle to survive

Vultures treated in rehabilitation programs are still much less likely to survive than other members of their species, researchers have found.

Cape vultures are veering toward extinction. Many of the birds suffer from poisoning or crash into power lines, so rehabilitation centers often treat the injured vultures. But “few studies have actually tested the efficacy of the technique,” the study authors write in Animal Conservation. “After all, if rehabilitated birds are unable to survive in the wild, then the technique can hardly be called a conservation tool.”

From 2005 to 2012, the researchers caught 242 Cape vultures at 12 locations in South Africa, then tagged the birds and released them back into the wild. The team also tagged 163 sick or injured birds that went through rehabilitation and were released. Landowners, bird-watchers, and other members of the public were then enlisted to spot the same vultures later.

In most cases, the rehabilitation centers couldn’t diagnose how the bird was hurt. People saw 234 of the vultures that had been previously captured or treated, the researchers report. The wild-caught birds’ survival rate was 91 percent, but the rehabilitated birds’ was only 75 percent. “[O]ur results underscore the importance of tackling the causes of these injuries to Cape vultures before rehabilitation becomes necessary,” the authors conclude. — Roberta Kwok | 29 May 2013

Source: Monadjem, A. et al. 2013. Effect of rehabilitation on survival rates of endangered Cape vultures. Animal Conservation doi: 10.1111/acv.12054.

Image © Schalke fotografie | Melissa Schalke |