Year in the Wild Blog

Vultures at Giants Castle in uKhahlamba Drakensberg

I’ve spent the last few days at Giant’s Castle, which is one of the sections of uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, in the central region of the mountains. It’s a beautiful camp situated at the top of a valley with superb views (like all the camps in the ‘Berg!).

Besides the scenery, there is a fantastic vulture hide at the top of one of the ridges (accessible only with a 4×4), which has been in operation for several years. It gives visitors a chance to see some of the impressive raptors that patrol the skies here. The most rare of all is the Bearded Vulture, once known as Lammergeier, a moniker which was wrongly attributed by farmers who thought that these birds caught lambs, and therefore did their best to poison these birds. Subsequent research has shown that these impressive vultures are in fact scavengers, and mostly prefer eating bones from dead animals. There aren’t many of them left in Southern Africa – there are only a handful of nests left, and all are restricted to the high mountains of Lesotho and South Africa. But an Ezemvelo team, headed by ecologist Sonja Krueger, is conducting intensive research on the birds, and hopefully it will help the vultures to recover in number.

Other birds that can typically be seen at the vulture hide are Cape Vultures, and a variety of buzzards, eagles and ravens. Be sure to visit the hide when you’re at Giant’s Castle – it’s well worth it. Visitors are given a bucket of old bones, which you scatter on the edge of the cliffs, then wait for the birds to come feed. I didn’t see any of the Bearded Vultures – although one flew low overhead but didn’t land. The best time of year to go to the hide is between May and September, mid-winter.

Thanks to Giant’s Castle resort manager Matt Jackson for the use of the photo of the bearded vulture below…it gives a good idea of what visitors can see.

A bearded vulture coming in to land...with Cape Vultures already on the bones...photo by Matt Jackson

The vulture hide...note the bucket of bones!

Inside the vulture hide - there is one way glass, so you can see out, but the birds can't see in!

Scattering the bones...

Scenery from the vulture hide

The bones are ready...

Jackal buzzard having breakfast

But some white necked ravens have other ideas!

However, the buzzard is the boss and chases the ravens off....

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