South Africa has one of the most diverse varieties of birds of prey found anywhere in the world. Even though 81 raptor species live alongside us every day, most people are unaware that they even exist, or that many human activities actually threaten their survival. Just under a quarter of these magnificent birds are now listed in the Red Data Book as rare, threatened or endangered. Active conservation management is required to ensure their survival. Established in 2005, the African Raptor Trust (ART) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that supports this cause. ART provides the legal and financial framework for all non-profit work undertaken, thus ensuring project continuity and professionalism.
The ART offices are based at the African Raptor Centre in KwaZulu-Natal. The African Raptor Trust currently supports 4 vital aspects of raptor conservation;
- the rescue and rehabilitation of injured or sick birds of prey,
- raptor education and public awareness outreach
- raptor research
- and conservation breeding
Birds of prey are important as indicators of environmental stability. Being at the top of the food chain, their presence in a habitat shows that all the lower elements of that ecosystem are intact. A healthy environment is as important to us humans as it is to raptors. So by taking measures to protect these birds, we are in fact ensuring the sustainability of our own living requirements.
The work of the African Raptor Trust has, thus far, been to:
1) Develop Raptor Rescue, a specialist bird of prey rehabilitation unit. Because of the threatened status of many raptor species, conflict casualties need to be actively treated. To this end a dedicated raptor treatment facility has been developed and approximately 150 birds of prey are treated annually. Raptor Rescue and head veterinarian Dr Oliver Tatham are now leaders in the field of African raptor veterinary and rehabilitation practice.
2) Found the Bearded Vulture Breeding Programme. This is a collaborative conservation effort to collect the seconds eggs from the high mountain nests of these critically endangered birds. Hatched and raised in captivity, the progeny of this captive group will then be released to supplement the dwindling wild population.
The African Raptor Trust also seeks to prevent the factors that actually threaten raptors by increasing public awareness and undertaking formal youth environmental education about birds of prey. This takes place primarily at the African Raptor Centre, which is located just off the N3 highway, within easy access of both KZN’s major cities.