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Slowly we chip away at the eggshell, revealing the two-layer membrane beneath. Starting at the site where the chick surfaced, we peel, tear, or fold the membrane, taking care to avoid ripping the active blood vessels running along the inside. This process must not be rushed and can take days. We are assisting in the hatching of VulPro’s fifth Cape vulture chick of the season. This bird and Cape vultures generally have an uncertain future, yet now this one is healthy and being cared for by its parents on the captive-breeding cliff.

Cape vultures

The egg was laid 54 days ago. When we removed the egg from the enclosure for artificial incubation, the unusually thin shell cracked. Luckily we could repair it with epoxy glue, and ten days later, it was confirmed fertile.

The mother habitually rolled the dummy egg out of the nest, sometimes off the cliff entirely, for incubation. We routinely replaced the egg in the nest until we integrated a nest box with the natural nest, providing a barrier to stop the egg from rolling off the cliff ledge.

The chick required our assistance hatching before we could return it to the parents because the hardened epoxy was over the egg’s air cell, near where the chick would externally pip (break out of the shell), and the risk of the parents rolling the egg off the cliff was too great.


The chick hatched relatively quickly for Cape vultures, 24 hours from externally pipping to fully detaching from the egg. The chick externally pipped independently, but we helped it break the shell around the epoxy. We kept it in the incubator while all the active and final blood vessels dried up, allowing the chick to detach completely from the shell. We placed it in a specially designed dummy egg for speedy ‘hatching’ on the cliff and returned it to the parents in the nest box. It was immediately accepted and incubated by the mother.

Cape vultures

VulPro’s captive breeding cliff now holds five healthy chicks, with another four expected by the end of August.

Cape vultures

READ MORE about vultures here

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I spend much of my time at VulPro watching the copulation behaviours of Cape vultures, hauling carcasses in varying states of decay, or smashing bones with a sledge hammer. You would not be the first to call me crazy for considering these enjoyable pastimes. I am conducting my Master’s research in South Africa alongside VulPro’s Cape vulture captive-breeding program. My study is the first to investigate captive-bred release success of the highly threatened species. I spent my early 20’s travelling East Africa while managing chimpanzee and blue monkey research projects. In my spare time I explored the region in self-guided mountaineering and hiking expeditions. I was born in America but have always found (or created) reasons to keep returning to Africa – what now feels like my home continent.

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