It is often the case in modern day Nature Conservation that iconic animals, especially the cute and cuddly, or majestic ones, get the lion’s share of attention (pardon the pun).

What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that ecosystems will still function if you remove Lion, or Elephant, or Rhino from the ecosystem. Yet ecosystems will fail if you remove scavengers, especially vultures, from that same ecosystem. Vultures are what is called a keystone species.

What’s that? Well, you’ve seen a keystone in an arch, right? It is just one stone compared to all the others in the arch. It doesn’t even bear a lot of load and yet, if you remove it, the arch will likely collapse. Similarly, in ecology, a keystone species plays a very important role in keeping the balance in the ecosystem. It might not be a very big species or there may not be very many of them, but remove a keystone species, and an ecosystem will collapse.

There are several reasons why vultures have been faltering, but the most critical factors remain loss of habitat, wrongful persecution, poisoning and changes in farming practices.

The importance of these incredible birds is only truly felt when they suddenly disappear from an ecosystem.

Some 18 months ago Duane Jacobz, our Operations Manager, was brought into contact with people from a new initiative, spearheaded by Birdlife SA, called the Vulture Safe Zone initiative. Duane set the ball rolling by contacting Dr Glyn Maude of Raptors Botswana, who is leading this initiative in Botswana, along with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

Dr Maude visited Limpopo-Lipadi last year to do an assessment of Reserve, and by all accounts described Limpopo-Lipadi as “setting the bar very high” for other reserves in Botswana, who will join this initiative in the future.

With the exception of the Botswana Power Corporation powerlines that run through the Reserve, we scored nearly 100% on the criteria to be considered a Vulture Safe Zone, and very recently a memorandum of understanding  was signed, in order to be included in this initiative. This will make Limpopo-Lipadi the first wildlife reserve in Botswana to qualify as a Vulture Safe Zone.

Photo: Cornelie de Jong

To read more about this initiative, have a look at: