As the largest eagle in Africa, with a wingspan of about 2.5m, these incredibly powerful hunters can often be seen on the Jock Concession and throughout the Kruger National Park, languidly swirling high on warm updrafts of air patiently patrolling the skies waiting for unsuspecting prey.
It was in 2011 that the team identified a 60% decrease in the martial eagle population. Even more worrying were the declines in large protected areas like Kruger, a main stronghold for these apex predators. The monitoring still includes assessing what the eagles are eating, if their breeding attempts are successful, habitat preferences and their movements. Also in 2011, with the support of SANParks to assess the decline within the Kruger Park specifically, the first task was to locate 66 tree top nests. This mammoth task had to be done mostly by helicopter while a ground team traversed the park by vehicle and on foot. After 3 years of nest monitoring, a very alarming reproductive rate was in evidence with only 0.19 young per year, per pair – numbers vastly insufficient to sustain future breeding populations.
Recognizable by a dark brown upper body, white belly with brown flecks and large talons attached to white feathered legs, these eagles are one of the most persecuted bird species due to its habit of preying on livestock and game. Farmers and game farm owners not in protected areas and parks like Kruger, have been known to eradicate martial eagles, possibly without exact research into the effect these birds actually have on their prey. And because of this, the martial eagle is now classified as Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN.
Today, the team has since GPS tagged over 15 eagles allowing them access and insight into their movements, who or what threatens the species and conservation requirements both in and out of the Kruger Park.
Jock Safari Lodge, owned by the not-for-profit organisation, CALEO Foundation who with their strong conservation ethics continuously strive to protect, restore and sustain endangered wildlife and flora for the benefit of future generations, were able to sponsor a GPS tag deployed on an adult female martial eagle within the park. While only recently tagged, we eagerly await reports on her progress and may she continue to fly high as we get to know ‘our’ eagle a little better over the coming years.