Bird centre forced to migrate

A resident African wood owl at the African Raptor Centre in Camperdown which will be relocating to the Tala Game Reserve. | Supplied.

A resident African wood owl at the African Raptor Centre in Camperdown which will be relocating to the Tala Game Reserve. | Supplied.

Published Jan 7, 2024


Durban — A toxic mix of politics, land invasions and houses popping up unexpectedly nearby has forced the African Raptor Centre in Camperdown to move.

The organisation, which has been at its current site for more than 20 years, will relocate to the nearby Tala Game Reserve over the next few months and should be up and running by the end of March.

Founder Ben Hoffman, who made it his life’s work to care for birds of prey, said although they had a registered 99-year lease for the land they occupied, it was best they moved now.

Another animal welfare project, one which deals mainly with monkeys, has left the area.

“We are relocating because we cannot carry on being where we are. It’s not that the birds are unsafe but long term, it’s unsustainable where we are because of the nature of the beast.”

A white-headed vulture and its chick. Raptor numbers have plummeted. Among the many causes of the fall is because most of the birds lay only one egg a year, says the African Raptor Centre in Camperdown. | Supplied.

In total, 120 birds, all of them captive bred or non-releasable, would be relocated and taken to their new home, said Hoffman.

“They are going to be in a box for about an hour as we move them. It’s going to be a different environment; they won’t like it for a day or so. As long as the food is regular and you have somewhere to drink and somewhere to sleep, you are going to be reasonably happy.”

Hoffman said the move would not be life-threatening; the birds would go through “all the health checks” and permits would be acquired to ensure all protocols were observed, including the construction of the enclosures, which had to adhere to international best practice.

However, the move comes with a hefty price tag starting at R850 000 and edging towards R1.5 million, to install the solar panels and water tanks they need to keep the food freezers, incubators and other services running around the clock.

Hoffman said they had closed the restaurant, curio shop and other facilities areas usually open to visitors, in order to start the dismantling and relocation process.

This week, a volunteer crew went to Tala, the new conservancy area where the African Raptor Centre will be based, to clear the lantana and wattle trees and make space for the new structures.

Hoffman said the centre’s bearded vulture recovery programme, which took care of one of the most endangered birds in South Africa, had moved to the Berg. He said they needed two facilities and made a decision to move that programme a year ago, in case the birds got sick, and they had a back-up facility. However, the move had to be accelerated in the past few months to ensure the bearded vultures were safe.

The programme, which is a collaboration between several organisations including the African Raptor Centre, KZN Wildlife and Ezemvelo Wildlife, has 18 bearded vultures under its wing.

“There are 250 of these birds left in the wild, most of them in Lesotho, so it’s a collaboration between South Africa and Lesotho,” said Hoffman.

“For the safety of the birds, they’ve been moved. A whole new facility has been built over the last couple of months in Underberg. We didn’t think we needed to do it this quickly, but all the birds are safe.”

The Raptor Centre’s wishlist

Hoffman said all raptor populations in the country had fallen drastically, mostly because of poisoning as well as declining food sources and people who hunted them to make muti.

“People have a big problem with jackals so they poison the sheep carcasses to kill the jackals, then the vultures and buzzards come down and feed on the carcasses and they die.”

He said low birth rates also played a significant role in the population size.

“Most of the big eagles only have one egg a year, the bearded vultures and vultures only have one egg, sometimes two, but they’ll only raise one chick a year because of the Cain and Abel syndrome. The older chick will attack the younger chick: it’s all about food because parents can only provide enough food for one chick.”

Apart from money, the African Raptor Centre has appealed for volunteers to help build the new site, and building products like cement and solar panels. Contact them at 031 785 4382, [email protected]

Independent on Saturday