The Tropical Butterfly House, Wildlife and Falconry Centre started a fundraising campaign three months ago and has now raised a record amount for VulPro, a charity based in South Africa working to protect critically endangered vultures. A fundraising evening in August raised £1220, bringing the total raised so far to £6400!
Bird trainer, Justine Lig, is particularly passionate about the cause, and came up with the idea that she could shave her head on International Vulture Awareness Day, 6th September, if they reached a target of £5000 in sponsorship and donations and is reported to be overwhelmed to have reached and exceeded the target so early. The team, which also includes Ben Coulson and Heather Scott, organised a Vulture Fundraising Evening which included a variety of live entertainment and a popular charity auction.
Justine herself also did a Poi performance to music, after which Zoo Curator and Manager, Andrew Reeve, announced a big surprise; “In recognition of Justine’s passion for the conservation of vultures, her hard work and amazing fundraising efforts, the park’s owner is funding a two week trip to VulPro in South Africa so that she can volunteer with the team and help practically with the work they are doing too.”
During daily free-flying Bird Displays, the team have also been fundraising with the help of two tiny Hahn’s Macaw brothers, Ché and Esteban, who take donations from the fingertips of audience members, and have been selling charity wristbands.
Kerri Wolter, founder of VulPro, is thrilled with the amount raised and the enthusiasm of the Tropical Butterfly House team; “Justine’s passion and commitment to help with the work we are doing is inspiring to me personally as well as to VulPro. We hope others will be inspired to know that one person’s efforts really can make a difference in the world. Vultures are very misunderstood and underappreciated so raising awareness in such a unique and brave way is brilliant to help conservation efforts. We are extremely grateful to Justine and look forward to working with her here in Africa.”
On Saturday 6th September, crowds gathered to see Justine's friends and colleagues, Ben and Heather, wield the clippers. At 12.30pm, Justine was given a Mohican (which she very much enjoyed!) and later the same day, had the rest shaved off. The team at the Tropical Butterfly House are immensely proud!
The amount raised will fund the construction of a new aviary for VulPro’s ninety unreleasable vultures, as well as the ongoing monitoring and research projects and expanding Cape Vulture breeding programme.
The Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List with an estimated population of 8,000 (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22695225/0) however VulPro’s research this year suggests the population is much lower, at approximately 3,700 and rapidly declining.
Vultures are suffering a rate of decline thought to be faster than that of the Dodo and some species, such as the Cape Vulture, face extinction by 2020 without drastic measures to protect them. One of the biggest threats to vultures is a veterinary drug, Diclofenac, which is widely used to treat cattle, but is fatal to vultures who consume the carcasses of animals treated with it that do not survive. Lead poisoning, culling for use of vulture body parts in traditional medicines and collisions with and electrocutions from power lines are other major reasons for declining vulture populations. A more modern threat is that of poachers, who deliberately poison the carcasses of elephants and rhinos that they have killed in order to kill the vultures too, in an attempt to stop circling vultures alerting the authorities to their illegal activities.
The Tropical Butterfly House recently celebrated 20th anniversary and attracts almost 100,000 visitors a year.
The Tropical Butterfly House, Wildlife and Falconry Centre is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA). BIAZA represents its member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums. For further information, please telephone 020 1449 6351.