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Keywords:

  • Cape vulture;
  • MARK;
  • population dynamics;
  • rehabilitation;
  • survival

Abstract

The rehabilitation of injured or poisoned birds, including raptors, is widely practiced even though its conservation value is not well understood. In this study, the survival rate of rehabilitated Cape vultures (Gyps coprotheres) released back into the wild was compared with that of wild-caught birds at a breeding colony in South Africa. The program MARK was used to model survival based on age, sex and whether they were rehabilitated or wild-caught for 405 individual birds. Despite receiving treatment, rehabilitated birds suffered significantly lower survival rates when compared with wild conspecifics of identical age. Annual survival rates (± se) of rehabilitated and wild-caught birds were 74.8% (± 8.1%) and 91.3% (± 6.3%), respectively. In addition, a population dynamics model was developed to predict future trends based on varying proportions of rehabilitated and wild-caught birds. The population growth rate (λ) for a wild population (i.e. without any rehabilitated individuals) was greater than one or increasing, whereas that for an entirely rehabilitated population was less than one or declining. A stable growth rate, λ = 1, occurred when approximately 50% of the adults were rehabilitated. Together, our results underscore the importance of tackling the causes of these injuries to Cape vultures before rehabilitation becomes necessary.