Saving Rüppell’s Vultures, One Breeding Cliff at a Time

The stunning landscape and cliff at Photo C. Hamilton James

As Africa’s vultures decline, protecting their remaining breeding sites magnifies in importance.

The road to Kwenia is long and dilapidated. As the miles accumulate, the potholes grow in circumference and number until swerving across the road ceases to be an option. Unflinching donkeys stand defiant across the center of the road, while emaciated cows seek out roadside grass courtesy of the just-begun rains.

The stunning landscape and cliff at Kwenia. Photo by C. Hamilton James

In this little-travelled region of southwestern Kenya the railway cars still carry salt from the nearby Magadi Soda Company, the children wave exuberantly as if you are a rock star, and the storm clouds race across the horizon teasing the perennially thirsty landscape. One can imagine this scenario has withstood the test of time.

Vulture’s eye view from atop the cliff at Kwenia. Photo by C. Hamilton James

The vultures too have persevered. Over the previous century their predecessors reaped from the bountiful losses caused by the rinderpest epidemic. The most recent generation has watched as the masses of grazing gazelles and zebras dwindled into the present day masses of cattle and goats, and as the tin buildings have proliferated from the foundations of the traditional manyatta.

For the critically endangered Rüppell’s vultures that raise their young on the heights of the surrounding 300-foot cliff, this is a change they have endured—at least until recently. From their nests scattered across the cliff face, the location of which is strikingly obvious thanks to the prolific whitewash, Rüppell’s Vultures continue to come and go daily in search of food.

Magnificent wingspan of a Ruppell's vulture. Photo M. Virani
Magnificent flight of a Ruppell’s vulture. Photo by M. Virani

Where they go is becoming less and less of a mystery thanks to new technology that allows scientists —> Read More