Issues with vulture re-sighting in Namibia

[update – 5 August 2013 – see


ISSUE ONE – poor quality material and dyes used for patagial tags?

Thank you Dirk Heinrich for your update on vulture with tag J078, fading fast.  My immediate reaction to your tagging record is one of *DISMAY*,  considering Andre Botha’s comment that vultures were being tagged with *better* quality material tags from 2011 onwards.  Assuming that you were using these better quality tags, the tagged bird (J078)  had a little more than ONE year of exposure to Namibia’s elements.

To look at another double-tagged bird photographed at NARREC earlier this year –

This Whitebacked Vulture is somewhat older than one year, and its tags are *completely* faded.  Not even the finest photoshop trickery could be used to enhance the once-black lettering/numbering on these tags:-(.

So it begs the question, given Andre Botha’s recent observation on tag lifetime; why are we tagging vultures with poor-quality tags???  

What’s the point? Indeed, what’s the point of any very costly, labour-intensive “high-visibility” tagging method, if we’re not going to get decent re-sighting returns for many more years than the 4-5 years suggested by Andre?  Or was that always the plan – to have short-term tags which fall off? For species which comfortably live for more than 20 years?

I’m always open to mind-changing arguments, but let’s move beyond the fun of climbing tall acacia trees, and come up with some practical solutions to get the best out of an obviously very *costly* tagging effort.

If feeding sites like NARREC are successfully producing more re-sighting records in one year than the entire (known) public database for Namibian tagged vultures, there must be something wrong.

Why is there no feeding site in the pro-Namib being used for re-sighting Lappet-faced vultures (LFVs)?  We see good numbers of LFVs at NARREC, but not one tagged LFV seen yet.   What about active feeding sites at the vast numbers of private game farms and lodges all over the country – there must be several sites which use trail cameras as frequently as we do (I gather the local gunsmiths are doing a roaring trade!).  What about re-sighting records from in and around the Etosha Park?

ISSUE TWO – where are the (public) records of vulture re-sightings, re-traps and recoveries kept?

I’m somewhat surprised that Vultures Namibia has not managed to update its record system for tagging and subsequent re-sightings of vultures (tagged by licensed ringers) in Namibia (and even further afield!).   I think it’s high time this happened.  And if this is too much a burden for one or two individuals, we should consider creating a place in the “cloud” where folks can independently post re-sighting records.  Take a look at

for an open-source, free example of such a localised  “incident-reporting” mechanism.  Or why not use a simple spreadsheet on google docs!  

Glaringly, the following excerpt in an earlier edition of Raptors Namibia Newsletter #1 2009 refers –

“Tag C032 was also seen. According to the “Colour Marking Protocol”  the tag series C has been issued to someone in Limpopo Province, R of SA. This is a really neat re-sighting!!”

Why is this a “really neat” re-sighting?  When the only bit of information available is the fact that a person with the tag series C lives in Limpopo province?  

When and exactly where was the (unidentified) vulture with Tag C032 tagged???  Now that would be “neat” information!  But try as I might, I can’t get that info from any of the regular sources such as SAFRING, EIS or Vultures Namibia.  Am I looking in the wrong places? Or am I being hamstrung by ownership issues?  

Ownership of ringing/tagging information?  

Use of the word “ownership”,  as recently done by Andre Botha on the Namringers yahoo group distribution list, troubles me somewhat.  I believe that my right to know about something in the public domain is an inalienable component of my right to freedom of expression (in the public domain).  

Since when do bird ringers *own* data?  As far as I can recall, all bird ringing and tagging, under licence/permit,  has always been subject to rules and conditions set in place by the local environmental authorities! One of those conditions has always been to report rings and tags put on birds to a central repository like e.g., SAFRING.  Hence, I should be able to extract information from SAFRING about birds ringed, tagged, re-trapped, re-sighted or recovered dead.  Regretfully, this does not appear to be the case, looking at the present published and unpublished record available by means of contemporary online search tools (however dreadful they are to use).

Looking at the vulture ringing and retrapping summaries  at SAFRING (those available to the public!):  

the Top 10 ringers/retrappers (re-sightings?) of whitebacked vultures

ID Name                        Ringed Retrapped Recovered Total

815 Anderson, Mark          536       2 5                   543
627 Mundy                          530       0 0                  530
574 Osborne, Tim,Laurel   368      21 5                  394
1119Versfeld, Wilferd         239       2 1                  242
484 Botha, Andre                 205       2 0                 207
826 Maritz, Abrie                 205       0 0                 205
110 Vulture Study Group     199       2         3                  204
731 Benson, Pat                 163       0 0                  163
808 Dell, Steve                 154       0             0                  154
573 Heinrich, Dirk          145       1 0                   146

Top 10 retrappers

ID Name                           Ringed Retrapped Recovered Total

0 Member of the public) 128        38 55                 221
574 Osborne, Tim,Laurel     368        21 5                  394
1275Diekmann, Maria        59       20 0                    79
802 Scott, Ann                       58      14 0                  72
277 Stephenson, Alan        0       3 0                   3
517 Bridgeford, Peter          105       3              4                112
1105Heymans, Joseph 22       3 0                  25
484 Botha, Andre               205       2               0                207
815 Anderson, Mark             536       2              5               543
110 Vulture Study Group

According to these tables, there should be at least 61 Namibian re-trap/re-sighting records available in the public domain.   It’s not possible to directly extract from this SAFRING web site how many of these vultures were re-trapped / re-sighted after 2006 (when patagial tags were used for the first time).  

Websites such as the new SAFRING site and EIS are horrible to use if you’re a citizen scientist, with a modicum of data retrieval skills, trying to find *locally* relevant information, like, for example, vultures ringed and tagged in Namibia since 2006.

Even worse are sites which stop providing information altogether – like the following namringers’ site

without any reasons given, since the last items posted in 2007!

ISSUE THREE - Effective Feedback Mechanisms

The days of waiting for years for an environmental publication to surface with out-of-date records should really be over, given the tsunami of social media tools on the internet.  

Picking on Chris and Rob's unpublished Red Data account of Whitebacked Vulture (dated May *2012*!) on Namibia's environmental information system (EIS);

"Knowledge of the breeding of this species is virtually unknown in Namibia, despite monitoring projects. However in 2003 and 2004, 66 nestlings were ringed in the Seeis, Hochveld and Steinhausen areas (P Bridgeford, D Henrich unpubl. data).  Numerous other hunting farms in these central-east regions have informal vulture restaurants supporting numerous breeding birds (P Bridgeford pers. obs.). Such data should be published and future monitoring should assess breeding densities and the success of pairs breeding in them."

If Chris, Rob and Peter can't provide this information, can anyone else tell me what happened to the ringing/tagging records of unfledged nestling White-backed vultures, and subsequent re-traps and re-sightings, between 2004 and 2012?   

This is a glaring indictment of our local vulture record-SHARING skills, if an, as yet, unpublished account of White-backed Vultures, reviewed by local vulture ringers, is going to press with this paucity of information!   Indeed, is this account a meaningful contribution to our body of knowledge on White-backed Vultures, and does it add anything to the well-written species account at ?

Gawd forbid if another Namibian Red Data book will be published in a paper-based format at (probably) high cost, when we could simply read (hopefully updated!) species accounts on a searchable wiki ?

To quote from the EIS web page

Why do we need an EIS?

A lot of information exists which is currently not easily accessible. This includes literature, reports, GIS data and other environmental information. Often, finding out what information exists and then obtaining it is a long and time-consuming process.  


One of the fundamental requirements of any *citizen-scientist*  project  is an *effective* feedback mechanism. By *effective* I mean quick and easy as possible, providing as close to instant gratification on effort as possible. It's simply all about positively reinforcing the efforts made by citizen scientist to contribute to a worthwhile environmental project.   

Are my contributions as a citizen scientist so un-trustworthy that I don't even get to be part of the editorial process, taking heed of so many well-learned lessons from, say, Wikipedia?  

It's time web site developers started using access to information technologies *effectively*.   And take heed of a rich repository of web usability and accessibility standards and tests.  And do some real-time web site TESTING! 

If EIS was a wiki, or more specifically, if the part on Red Data species was a wiki, we wouldn't even need to load the extra and costly administrative and editorial burden on a select few...  

and you'd still be able to get a citation for your contribution!  Slap on a CC BY SA (Share Alike Creative Commons)  copyright license and you've got a world class open educational resource begging for additions and improvements by a growing pool of contributing (citizen) scientists.  A *one for all* publication. Instead of one or two really smart guys, it could draw on thousands of fairly smart people. Instead of clearly delineated lines of authority, it could depend on radical decentralization and self-organization - open source; creating a product that's fluid, fast, fixable, and free.
Check the hypothetical - 
Rob, Chris, Peter, Holger, whatever.  2012. BirdLife International Species factsheet: Gyps africanus. Downloaded from on 05/12/2012. Downloaded from on 05/12/2012.

And while I'm frying environmental web designers, what about SAFRING's new web site? 

The home page is breath-taking example of careless geek(ery).

How can you announce a new web site without first checking that it's all shipshape? 

1.  An article on OdonataMAP, the Virtual Museum for dragonflies and damselflies? Huh? 

2.  Even worse, a duplication of an article on the same home page? 20000 downloads of pdfs of papers?  

3. I can't get an existing email + ADU/SAFRING number + login combination to access the user-area.  I guess I've forgotten which email and password combination - help!  There's no friendly human or bot interface to help me sort this out...
4.  The about us page tells us that there are currently 130 active ringers operating in South Africa and neighbouring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.   But who are they?  And who's in charge of SAFRING stuff?   You've got to really dig around to find out who the humans are at SAFRING.  
5. I want to know who's who in this interesting space, without making it too easy for web crawlers to locate and spam the email addresses of key players.  Michael Brooks needs to fix this problem on his non-South African permit pages!  Folks like Holger, linked there, must be dealing with unbelievable amounts of spam!  

6. And why do SAFRING folks think that the data they've made available on their new web site are actually of greater *public* interest than other bits of information - like, for example -

"Where and when, and what species of vulture was tagged by who, with the Tag C032"?

Go figure.

Here's what I think.  

I want to be able to contribute to a place in the cloud which shows me and others appropriate information about tagged vultures in Namibia. I want to be able to do a simple google search for the words "vulture tag namibia" and find this place in cloud as a first page hit. I also want to know who's who in this interesting space, without making it too easy for web crawlers to locate and spam the email addresses of key players.  

Let's  works out a simple plan of action that does not weigh heavily on technology-literacy (or illiteracy for that matter), but rather a collective vulture tagging interest.  And it should not be dictated by any academic expectations.   I'm asking people to try find and use a Web site that we would expect to work the way it was intended.  We would be testing the site, not ourselves as users.  Is this too much to ask for? 


Read my blog

Posted in #namibia, camera trap, citizen science, EIS, narrec, re-sighting, SAFRING, tagging, vulture
3 comments on “Issues with vulture re-sighting in Namibia
  1. tatejoris says:

    My issues with citizen science in Namibia are by no means exhausted – this particular blog entry was prompted by the seeming lack of cohesion among vulture taggers and observers. Minor variations were also posted to the Namringers distribution list.


  2. NARREC says:

    quite a few people have said that they absolutely agree with you… cowardly or not interested enough to comment publicly. I do think that a big part of the problem is that most (of us) have no idea how to fix this issue.


  3. tatejoris says:

    We now have an interactive vulture re-sighting web site courtesy of Ushahidi, which may yet give us the kind of information I've been clamouring for, and providing vulture ringers with a return on their investment!

    So here is link on my blog –


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