Supporting conservation work and safeguarding the future of the species

The National Zoological Garden (NZG) in Pretoria is tremendously proud of the success of its Cape vulture breeding programme.

Right now, there are two vulture chicks on the nest. The chicks hatched in the second half of July, and are doing splendidly. They are part of a captive breeding initiative that aligns with the recently published Draft Biodiversity Management Plan that aims to safeguard the species in its natural habitat.

The NZG has been breeding Cape vultures (Gyps coprotheres) successfully since 1996. These birds are native to southern Africa, primarily inhabiting regions in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, and parts of northern Namibia. The Cape vulture is classified as vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List categories.

Since 1997, the NZG has achieved successful breeding, with five pairs of birds currently incubating, hatching, and raising one to three chicks every breeding season. Nesting material is provided on a weekly basis for building and lining nests during the breeding season. Eggs are entrusted to pairs for incubation, hatching, and rearing. Pairs tending chicks are fed twice a day. The rest of the colony is fed twice weekly. Nest inspections are conducted every other day to monitor egg laying.

Tracy Rehse, Conservation Director at the NZG, says she and her colleagues at the zoo staff take great pride in the success of the breeding programme. “It’s been a cornerstone of our conservation efforts since 1996. Through our dedicated work, we are contributing to the protection of this vulnerable species and its natural habitat in Southern Africa. Every chick hatched is a beacon of hope for the future of the Cape vulture.”

KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Accipitriformes (Diurnal birds of prey)
FAMILY: Accipitridae (Old world vultures)
SUB-FAMILY: Aegypiinae (Vultures)
GENUS: Gyps (Typical vultures)
SPECIES: Gyps coprotheres (Cape Vulture)


The Cape vulture is found in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Mozambique. It formerly bred in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia, but is now extinct in Swaziland, and only small, non-breeding populations persist in Zimbabwe and Namibia. Vagrants are occasionally recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia.

The Cape vulture has a creamy-buff body plumage, which contrasts with its dark flight and tail feathers and its black bill. Adults can be distinguished by their honey-coloured eyes and naked, bluish throat, whilst juveniles have brown eyes and a pink neck.

Cape vultures inhabit open grassland, savannah and shrubland and is often found roosting on crags in mountainous regions.

Vultures feed on carrion (dead carcasses) and do not kill their own prey.

They are gregarious, feeding, roosting and breeding close to each other. Cape vultures are monogamous (having one partner at a time). They often feed in large groups and also are social breeders. The young birds normally form groups to forage and roost some distance from their breeding sites. Interactions between the different populations therefore do occur.

The nesting colonies can hold up to 1000 pairs in cliffs. The Cape Vulture usually remains within the foraging range, travelling over about 100 km from nesting and roosting sites. The juveniles may disperse over larger distances and form nursery areas outside the breeding colonies.

The Cape vulture’s life span in the wild is 15-25 years but they may live up to 70 years in captivity.

They are preyed on by leopards and jackals.

Cape vultures face a number of threats and, as a result, their populations are thought to be declining throughout much of their range.

A primary reason for these declines is poisoning. Farmers sometimes poison carcasses and leave them out to kill unwanted predators, such as leopards and jackals, but often the poison kills large groups of Cape vultures and other scavenging species that also feed on the carcass.

Collisions with power lines and vehicles are more recent dangers for the Cape vulture, as well as hunting for traditional medicine, human disturbance, and drowning in water tanks. In Namibia, mismanagement of rangelands has led to severe bush encroachment over large areas, and recent research has indicated that this has an adverse effect on their ability to find food.

Did you know?

  • A group of Vultures is known as a ‘venue’ and when the group is seen in the air, circling together; it is called a ‘kettle’
  • Vultures have incredible eyesight during the day which enables them to spot their prey while soaring through the sky; they can spot a large animal carcass from around 6 km away on open grassland or savanna plains
  • Vultures also have a very well-developed sense of smell which also helps them to find their food

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