A special investigation is being launched by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) following a discovery that as many as 48 Cape Vultures have been electrocuted on Eskom powerlines near Elliot, in the Eastern Cape, in recent times.
The State-owned electricity utility confirmed on Tuesday that some vultures had been electrocuted “at various locations in the Eastern Cape” and that a formal investigation would be initiated to determine the root cause of the deaths.
The incidents had been reported to the EWT as part of the Eskom EWT Strategic Partnership and mitigation measures identified during the investigation would be “implemented by Eskom to prevent further bird mortalities in this area and elsewhere”.
A senior EWT field officer for the Wildlife and Energy Programme told Engineering News Online that the investigation was being prioritised, owing to the scale of the incidents. The electrocutions appeared to have taken place over a period of time, with both decayed and fresh carcasses discovered over the Easter weekend.
EWT investigators would visit the site on Thursday and hoped to complete their report, together with proposed sanctions and remedies, well ahead of the 30-day turnaround time typical for such probes.
The incident was also being prioritised, owing to the fact that the Cape Vulture has been recently reclassified as endangered on the ‘IUCN Red List of Threatened Species’ – previously it was listed as vulnerable. There are believed to be 8 800 individual birds in Southern Africa.
The two main incidents took place near one of the 20 remaining breeding sites in the eastern cape. The third smaller incident took place on a line about a kilometre away from an abattoir where the birds are fed.
It was not immediately clear whether the configuration of the powerline was to blame for the latest incidents, but there were strong suspicions of that being the case.
Questions would also be posed, meanwhile, as to whether the lines had been properly inspected by Eskom employees to ensure that they were “bird friendly”.
The utility acknowledged that powerlines built before the introduction of its biodiversity policy, which stipulates bird-friendly designs, could present an electrocution risk to large birds.
In order for a powerline to be designated bird friendly it must not be possible for birds with large wingspans, such as vultures, to breach the gap between two live conductors, or between live and earth phases.
“In the event of bird mortalities being reported on old designs (as in this case) an investigation is performed and recommendations forwarded to Eskom by the EWT to implement mitigation measures. In terms of Eskom’s strategy, mitigation measures will be put in place within four months of the reported incidents. Currently, 88.23% of recommendations received from the EWT were closed within 4 months,” Eskom said.
The utility added that it, together with EWT, had conducted research to identify bird-sensitive areas to enable it to take proactive mitigation actions. “This programme will commence within the next 12 months.”
EWT reports that, since 1996, 1 262 vulture mortalities have been recorded in the Eskom/EWT Central Incident Register.
Even prior to the Elliot incident, the most heavily impacted species had been the Cape Griffon, or Cape Vulture, with 774 mortalities being recorded, of which 637 were recorded as electrocutions.