There are two things I need while trapping vultures, good company and chocolate. Fortunately, I managed the first one, but unfortunately for my trapping partner I overlooked the second.
The media’s portrayal of the work of wildlife biologists is unapologetically deceptive. The exciting moments of the capture and handling of a live, often furry, creature represent about 5% of the day’s work. The rest of the day is spent waiting. And waiting.
If you happen to study carnivores then the chances are high that you’ve spent the day waiting in a fly-filled, blood-soaked vehicle—the result of having to kill and transport the bait for catching your beloved study animal. Not surprisingly, this unromantic side of wildlife capture rarely makes it to a theater near you.
Hence, the need for good company is essential. I am fortunate to work with African raptor guru Simon Thomsett. Simon and I trap Ruppell’s vultures and attach small transmitters on their backs in order to better understand their vast movements across Kenya and into neighboring countries.
Many species of African vulture travel huge distances in search of food and this exposes them to numerous threats along the way including eating poisoned carcasses and colliding with power lines. Vultures are iconic birds of the African plains, but they are among the most threatened birds in the world. In Africa, vultures have suffered huge declines of 90% in West Africa and 60% in East Africa, some species in North Africa have already gone extinct. We simply don’t have time to wait.
But waiting for the birds to come to our carcass is part of the job and this is where chocolate becomes essential. When Simon starts talking excitedly about oxidation, capacitors and living on Mars, I urgently need a chocolate fix. I am a gluttonous researcher studying a gluttonous bird.
But while vultures may have messy table manners, they often come to the table, but opt to skip dinner just like a difficult teenager. It becomes a mind game to outwit and outwait them. It doesn’t always work, but of course there is one more thing needed to trap a vulture—endless patience!