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Endangered vultures face added threat

Durban – Two endangered African vulture species face danger from dozens of new wind turbines in Lesotho, the world bird conservation network Birdlife International warned on Wednesday.

Reacting to the approval of a wind farm near the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg world heritage site in KwaZulu-Natal, Birdlife said the 42 turbines were likely to have “severe impacts” on vulture conservation.

The Letseng wind farm is in one of the main breeding and roosting grounds of the Bearded Vulture and Cape Vulture.

There are only 100 breeding pairs of Bearded Vulture in southern Africa, with nearly 60 percent of the population in Lesotho. This species is listed as endangered, but is expected to be relisted as critically endangered in the next edition of the Red Data book of birds.

The Cape Vulture is found nowhere else in the world, is listed as vulnerable, and due to be reclassified as endangered.

According to Birdlife experts, more than 40 percent of the world population of Cape Vultures breed or roost in the Maluti-Drakensberg range.

Ken Mwathe, the bird network’s Africa spokesman, said studies showed that vultures were prone to colliding with wind turbines.

Ornithologist Dr Andrew Jenkins, who compiled a specialist report as part of the environmental impact assessment process, also found that the wind farm plan was ecologically unsustainable because of the “high to very high negative” impacts on vultures.

A spokesman for the wind farm developers, PowerNET Developments, could not be reached for comment.

Birdlife said the developers had proposed mitigation measures, including a radar-based system that would shut off the turbines when there was a risk of collision. But it was not convinced the system would solve the problem.

In approving the project, Lesotho’s Department of Environment had reserved the right to revoke authorisation if environmental concerns could not be mitigated adequately.

“We understand that the decision was an attempt to find a compromise between the needs of the developer and the concerns of conservationists,” Birdlife said.

Nevertheless, it urged the Lesotho government to review the authorisation.

Another company, Breeze Power, has plans to build a larger wind farm in the same area.

Gem Diamonds, the majority owner of the nearby Letseng diamond mine in Lesotho, is planning a major production increase. The company did not respond to queries on whether it hoped to draw power from the new Letseng wind farm. – The Mercury