College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Rehabilitated Yellow-Billed Kites the Focus of Novel Scientific Mercy Mission

UKZN’s Centre for Functional BiodiversityEzemvelo KZN Wildlife and the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) have teamed up for a scientific mercy mission.

Postdoctoral researcher Dr Dave Ehlers Smith and Ezemvelo colleague Mr Brent Coverdale, recently released three rehabilitated yellow-billed kites at a Crocodile Farm outside Wartburg, KwaZulu-Natal – a location that sees hundreds of the scavengers feeding from the croc food each year. The birds were ringed and fitted with GSM transmitter devices supplied by Chinese company, Druid, just in time for their annual migration.

Yellow-billed kites are migratory birds and take off on their long flight to central-east Africa around March every year. The transmitters and rings will help to track the birds on their flight path, adding valuable data to research on these incredible birds.

The three individuals were brought in to CROW around the same time, one with a concussion after being clipped by a car, while the other two were juveniles who had failed on their first flights.

After a few months at CROW, with rigorous flight practice and a protein-rich diet, the birds were ready to take to the skies again.

A crucial part of rehabilitation happens after an animal is released back into the wild, and post-release monitoring will help the researchers to track the progress of the former patients and establish how they are faring in their new environment.

Said Ehlers Smith: ‘It will be extra interesting to track them as, in addition to monitoring their migration (which to our knowledge hasn’t been done in this species, except one rehabbed bird we released two years ago), we can monitor the success of rehabilitation and hopefully promote scientific support for it.’

The logistics for the release were greatly facilitated by the Ford Wildlife Fund who sponsored a research vehicle.

To watch a video of the release, click HERE.

Words: Sally Frost

Images: Supplied