Two Units in the Hand

When something miraculous happens you don’t really expect it to happen again, so when we found another bird with a backpack that had given up the ghost I didn’t really think we could trap it. In fact it seemed fool-harden to even try, but the Ruppell’s vulture in question was already panting from its fights at the carcass and was very very full. The backpack in question had also slipped into a rather uncomfortable position and so I felt anxious to trap the bird not just to release it from the weight, but also from the discomfort of the unit. Plus catching it would mean one more unit that could be refurbished and thus a bit more information that we could gain about these amazing birds. So with no further adieu we were off and chasing the bird. It didn’t take long until I found myself outside the car running alongside it as it turned its snake-like neck in my direction. Ruppell’s vultures are considerably more aggressive than Lappet-faced and I gave it some distance before finally throwing the blanket over its head. I pulled out my Swiss army knife and with four swift snips the backpack was off and the bird was on its way.

Unit in hand I could now read the number and figure out which bird this was exactly (it didn’t have a wing tag like the other one). I had caught this bird in August last year in the Mara of course only to have its unit appear to stop working in December. It wouldn’t be until March that I got signal from the bird again since it made the longest journey of any of our study birds. This bird had gone all the way to Ethiopia and crossed into Sudan where it had spent nearly three months. Now a full year later it had returned to feed on the wildebeest in Kenya’s Mara and (unexpectedly for the bird) to suffer the same fate of being trapped again, though this time to have a little weight removed rather than added. I really couldn’t believe it – I had just touched a bird that had been to two countries that I have never seen, a bird that had travelled thousands of kilometers to be here again; a bird that had truly taught us something with the unit and would now gift us a little more information with its unit back in my hand.


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