Members of the genus Gyps are vultures varying in size from medium to large. They have an elongated head with a long and heavy beak. The head and neck are bare, but for a covering of woolly down. At the base of the neck is a ruff of long, narrow, pointed feathers. This is a social genus, usually nesting in colonies in trees or on rocky crags. There are seven species, covering much of Africa, southern Europe and into Asia. Of there, two (the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus and the Indian White-backed Vulture Gyps bengalensis ) are arguably more logically places in a genus of their own. They differ in that they have 12 tail feathers (not the 14 that all other Gyps have), their nesting habits differ, and they have a distinctive coloration that differs significantly from the rest of the genus.
|wingspan min.:||240||cm||wingspan max.:||260||cm|
|size min.:||100||cm||size max.:||115||cm|
|incubation min.:||45||days||incubation max.:||55||days|
|fledging min.:||80||days||fledging max.:||90||days|
Namibia: declined to extinction – just six non-breeding birds remain;
Swaziland: declined to extinction.
The total population was estimated to be 4,400 pairs in 84 colonies in 1994, and was implied to
have declined to c.4,000 pairs by 1999.
Video Cape Vulture
copyright: Jordi Sargatal
Accidental poisoning on agricultural land, electrocution on pylons, collision with overhead cables and with vehicles, food-stress during chick-rearing, persecution (including collection for traditional medicines), disturbance at colonies, and drowning. Unmistakable in its adult plumage, this is a huge pale-coloured vulture with black wing and tail quills contrasting sharply with its body plumage. The young are a little like those of the African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), but are a lot bigger, paler-coloured about the shoulders and have a ruff of lance-shaped feathers, not down.
Formerly more widespread, it is now mostly confined to the mountainous regions of South Africa, descending from these into the plains to feed. It is not present in the driest deserts. It roosts communally on a crag, or in a tree from which it takes to the air as soon as the air currents permit in the morning. It typically travels great distances during the day and returns in the evening to roost, behaving in this respect like other Griffons. On the wing it soars at a great height, often almost out of sight from the ground, and descends to feed when available.
At a carcase it behaves just like other Griffons, making threat displays to secure dominance over other vultures. The threat display consists of bounding forward with the wings spread, similar to the Eurasian Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus ). The neck is often stretched to maximum length and held stiffly vertical.
Many will collect at a carcase and in some South African areas must travel long distances to do so, since the majority of dead domestic animals are buried.
The present world population of Cape Vultures is estimated at less than 12,000 individuals (1997) – the Western Cape Province of South Africa, centre of their traditional home, now houses only about 80 birds, including just 25 breeding pairs.