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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Rekero’s Release
Munir Virani — in East Africa Project    Share

Conservationists the world over usually say that “the field of conservation can be extremely frustrating.” This is true to a certain extent but as scientists and conservationists, we simply cannot give up. While “feel good” factors are few and far between, they are there. Look at how populations of the Mauritius Kestrel have recovered (from only four known individuals in the wild in 1980 to over 600 individuals presently), or the fact that Peregrine Falcons have been taken off the US Endangered Species List. Some events can make you feel good no matter how small they seem - whether it is watching your child release an eagle after banding or giving a bird a second chance to live after all hope is lost. Yesterday was one of those days where a group of Kenyans felt that “feel good factor.” It was also a great example of how people working together can make a difference. A huge difference in the life of one vulture—a Rüppell’s Vulture nicknamed Rekero.

Rekero the Rüppell’s Vulture.
Rekero the Rüppell’s Vulture.
In August 2009, Corinne Kendall and I trapped Rekero in the Masai Mara to attach a GPS-GSM unit on the bird (read more about Corinne’s work). Rekero was surprisingly not feisty for a vulture, and although she didn’t appear weak by any means, she only flew a hundred meters after we tagged and released her, and landed on the ground. We kept a close watch on her movements but after a couple days, it seemed pretty evident that Rekero was still within the same area where we had trapped her. She couldn’t fly properly. Kenya was going through one of its worst droughts and there had been a spate of poisoning events in the Masai Mara resulting in deaths of predators as well as vultures. It was quite plausible that Rekero may have been a victim of poisoning that had left her traumatized. Corinne re-trapped Rekero, and one of our partners in the Masai Mara, Heritage Hotels was very kind enough to let her spend a night there.

The following morning, Corinne, and her field assistant Wilson took Rekero to Sarah Higgins who lives on the shores of Lake Naivasha. Sarah is the secretary of the Lake Naivasha Riparian Association and has great knowledge and expertise in looking after young, sick, and injured birds. She has been taking care of a pair of Crowned Eagles, African Fish Eagles, Augur Buzzards and, more recently, nursed a baby Great White Pelican who she aptly nicknamed “Waddlesworth.” So Rekero was placed in a very well maintained aviary and with tender loving care and lots of meat provided by Sarah, she was back to normal and ready to be released after a period of six months.

Sarah was brilliant in organizing the release. Simon Thomsett, some friends and I turned up at her house yesterday. After a cup of freshly brewed coffee, Simon attached a solar powered radio-transmitter on Rekero as Sarah and I held her. We then drove Rekero into Hell’s Gate National Park where Nellie the Warden met us and together we drove to the campsite near the main cliff wall where we planned to release Rekero. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies, a lush green landscape and herds of ungulates in the distance.

Simon carried Rekero close to the cliff’s edge while I got into position to take pictures. Releasing a bird after it’s been in captivity for a while can be quite an overwhelming affair, but Rekero was a natural and choreographed her flight with sheer elegance. As soon as she left Simon’s arms, she took a couple of steps and soared into the sky with the grace of a ballet dancer (I know you will find this hard to believe, but it is the truth!). She made a couple of turns and within a few minutes had already joined other soaring vultures in a thermal and completely disappeared out of sight, perhaps headed off to the Masai Mara. There were huge smiles and cheers all over.

Kenya, just like the rest of Africa, has a myriad of environmental and conservation problems. However, it is moments like these when we smile and feel good because one single vulture has been given a new lease of life. From Corinne’s and Simon’s efforts in the Masai Mara, to the mechanic in the garage who fed Rekero a morsel, to Sarah’s patient efforts in looking after a sick vulture, and to the support from Kenya Wildlife Service and other well wishers, we wish Rekero safe travels and happy feasting!

Rekero in flight.
Rekero in flight.

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