Want to come eyeball to eyeball with a Cape Vulture? Visit Oribi Gorge’s vulture viewing hide on Kwa Zulu Natal’s South Coast.
I’ve always associated vultures with sitting in a vehicle at a game park watching them squabble over a rotting carcass. Although it’s a privilege to watch these huge birds gorge themselves on their foul-smelling meal, I never quite felt endeared to them.
However, having come up close and personal with Cape Vultures here at Oribi, I’ve fallen in love.
Oribi Gorge is just over two hours from Durban, so we started our day early. After meeting other guests and all the formalities over (signing indemnity forms, paying our R100 entrance fee, etc), we followed Andy Ruffle in convoy to a private farm where the best view of the colony is found.
Watch Vultures soaring, roosting and nesting just a few metres away
Approaching the hide, the sky was dotted with hundreds of vultures soaring and swooping above us – truly spectacular. It seemed like a well-arranged staged choreography of “welcome to the vulture colony”.
Just as we parked, a pair of Oribi Buck quickly scuttled off. A lot of folk missed them as they were glued to the spectacular display above.
The walk to the edge of the precipice is short and easy and we were free to wander around nearby. The only warning was not to fall off the edge and if we did, make sure we fell where our bodies would be easily accessible for the vultures. Not such a good idea!!
While we all drank in the view of about 200 vultures roosting on the cliff face, Andy shared with us not only his love for the vultures themselves, but also interesting facts about the colony and hide. Anyone’s dim view of a vulture was quickly squashed, and one can only admire these scavengers. They play a massive role in keeping the environment clean and healthy, free of bacteria not only dangerous to humans and animals, but even to our water supplies.
Scouring the cliff face, I found two nests each with an adult and one chick. Apparently, there are approximately 90 nests altogether. This is a truly spectacular accomplishment when you consider that back in 2000, there were only 20 vultures in the area.
The best place to sit
For me, the best was sitting to the right of the colony where many of the vultures came swooping past. To watch these massive birds (about 8.5 kg with a wingspan of 2.6m), dive, swoop, and circle just above and below me was an unforgettable experience.
Sometimes they were eye-level with me – an “eyeball to eyeball” interaction with a Cape vulture!! Breathtaking, that’s all I can say.
We didn’t go into the hide as there were no fresh carcasses, so no birds were hanging around. We did, however, walk around the restaurant among “leftovers”. Sounds quite bizarre, doesn’t it?
Well, besides blank eyes from horses, a wildebeest and a zebra, bare ribs and dry hides, the area was clean and didn’t smell. Perhaps you don’t believe me, but it’s true. Despite the perception of being unclean, covered in blood and rotting meat, vultures are extremely clean creatures. They are the cleaners of the earth. As a result, the carcasses are clean – not one fly was present. The only time the area would smell would be while they were cleaning up on “fresh” carcasses.
Time flies when you’re having fun and too quickly our two hours suddenly disappeared, and it was time to leave.
Lunch at Leopards Rock
Back-tracking to Leopards Rock for a scrumptious lunch was a good idea. The restaurant overlooks the gorge providing magnificent views.
Entertainment was a flock of Crowned Hornbills begging for food, a pair of Mocking Chats and a few Drongos.
We decided to take the “long road home” through the Gorge which proved to be very productive. We found a Marsh Harrier (in the sugar cane fields before going into the gorge, a Jackal Buzzard, Amethyst Sunbirds and Common Fiscals, among other stunning feathered creatures. Watching a troop of Samango monkeys was also a treat.
So next time you need a day out, visit Oribi Gorge and plan to visit the Vulture Colony – you won’t be disappointed.
After lunch I ‘braved’ sitting on Leopard Rock overlooking Oribi Gorge. This is a must for all visitors.