Durban - Sharp metal blades spinning in the wind may generate “green electricity”, but they also slice through any birds that fly too close – including the critically endangered Bearded Vulture.
Only 109 breeding pairs of Bearded Vulture are left in southern Africa, many of them roosting and nesting in the mountainous areas of Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State that have been targeted for wind farms.
This week, a team of local and Scottish scientists published a new mapping tool that could help protect Bearded Vultures, whose numbers have dropped by 30 percent in the past five decades.
The map is part of a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology by researchers from Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, the University of Cape Town and the Scottish charity Natural Research.
Senior author Dr Arjun Amar, of UCT, said the map aimed to provide information to wind farm planners to avoid the death of Bearded Vultures.
Although Lesotho had no wind farms, several large-scale developments were being planned that could see up to as many as 4 000 turbines generating 6 000 megawatts of power.
To generate the map, researchers fitted 21 vultures with solar-powered GPS satellite tags to track their movements, exploring where the vultures were most likely to fly at a height at which they might collide with turbine blades.
Amar said one of the first proposed Lesotho wind farms was located among the top one percent of “worst possible sites” for juvenile Bearded Vultures and could therefore kill considerable numbers of a threatened species.