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Feb 22, 2008

Power utility looks to minimise negative impact on wildlife

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State-owned power utility Eskom has launched a research project aimed at preventing vultures and other birds from being electrocuted on power lines at Skeerpoort, in the Hartbeespoort dam area in the North West province.

The vulture enclosure research (VER) project will allow for an alternative method to study mitigation methodologies, and uses various cost-effective equipment, such as insulation covers and bird- diverter methods. The facility will also allow for injured vultures to recuperate before they are released back into the wild.

About 90% of the decline in the number of vultures in the Magaliesburg and Hartbeespoort dam area is as a result of injuries sustained from power lines.

Urbanisation in the Hartbeespoort dam and Magaliesburg area has resulted in the construction of more power lines, and this has seen more vultures electrocuted after flying into overhead power lines, says VER programme manager Kerri Walters.

She explains: “Instead of us going into the fields and using mitigation methods that do not necessarily work, Eskom has built an enclosure in which we can test the reaction behaviour of the birds towards these methods. “The vultures can teach us how to protect them, and not the other way around, which has not worked effectively.”

About R200 000 has been spent on the equipment for the project, with a further R3-million allocated for fieldwork. The outcomes of this research programme will assist Eskom in other partnership programmes with conservation organisations aimed at minimising Eskom’s impact on birds.

Eskom corporate services MD Dr Steve Lennon tells Engineering News that, despite the power crisis gripping South Africa, it is impossible for Eskom to forget about the environment in which it operates.

“For the past 15 to 20 years, Eskom has been observing how wildlife and birds interact with its infrastructure in the wild. “This facility will give us an opportunity to test the birds’ interaction with our infrastructure. “We want to learn and change the design of our infrastructure, so that we become more environment friendly into the future,” says Lennon.
Other initiatives by Eskom include bird guards, the change in the design of its towers and the strategic routing of power lines to ensure that the impact on the environment is reduced.

Eskom has acknowledged that the risk of injury and electrocution is a constant threat to the environment as a result of its open power system; however, Eskom vulture programme manager Johan van Staden says that the company is striving to ensure that electrocutions are prevented or reduced significantly.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor
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