November 2, 2013

For the Love of Vultures: An Interview with Kerri Wolter. ~ Annabel Ruffell

I first learned of Kerri Wolter while watching a BBC program a few weeks ago with my father.

I felt her dedication and commitment to African vulture conservation was so inspiring I knew I had to contact her and share her journey. It would be great to get her hard work for vulture conservation out there to as many people as possible!

~ Annabel Ruffell

AR: What journey are you on?

KW: Hmm, interesting question. Well, my journey since a little girl has been on the path of making a difference in this world and to any and all animals, as many as I can have a positive role to play, making their lives easier and better.

My journey right now and for the last 11 years has been a journey to protect and preserve vultures, and to influence the thoughts of people with regards to vultures in order to get as many individuals, organizations, groups etc. to see vultures in a favourable light.

Right now, my specific journey is to uplift the profile of vultures across the world giving them the same—if not more—recognition and conservation value as our rhinos and elephants. I would like for people to stop and watch these magnificent birds, to understand their true value in our ecosystem and because of that, to do everything in their power to protect and save the species before it is too late.

My journey is selfless as I live for the animals, making a difference to as many individual animals that come my way. Often, conservationists do not believe in rehabilitation but my thoughts are that every single vulture, animal etc. has a purpose in this world and everyone of them deserves as much chance to survive in harmony with the rest, as do humans. We do whatever we can to keep people alive—not worrying about costs etc.. I believe we should be doing the same for animals out there and for our vulture species.

I would like people to know that vultures are in fact, true indicators of a healthy ecosystem and if we lose them in Africa, it will affect every one of us through the loss of our wildlife due to diseases which vultures reduce the spread of, leading to the loss of tourism, leading to a loss of jobs and job opportunities, and leading to a decrease in our economy, which ultimately affects you and me.

AR: What has been one of your greatest challenges over the years, either with the work that you do or in another area of your life, and how did you overcome it?

KW: Apart from finances to keep the project going, personal relationships have not been my strong point and I have had to deal with a very bad relationship for five years, to the point of getting a protection order against my ex.

Due to the break-up, I also lost my 75-hectare farm which I bought but had put fifty per cent of in his name. My ex was not prepared to see reason, the farm was auctioned off by the high court and I had to move myself, my animals and the entire project. It was a very emotional time for me where I believed I let the vultures, my friends, my family and my animals down.

I had no time to mourn, to cry and to be weak. I had to continue for the animals and the emotional strain of the past few years have taken their toll in my becoming extremely exhausted right now. Again, I have no time to relax, take a break etc., the vultures do not allow this and they need protection every single day. And so, I find myself continuing along my journey with no break in sight but complete exhaustion setting in.

More recently, I find the frustrations of animal poaching now influencing and impacting our vulture numbers—poachers directly targeting vultures are the indicators to the numbers of dead and/or poached animals. They also see financial gain with the dead vultures, cutting their heads off to sell to the muti market.

I am at my wits end and honestly, I have no idea how one deals with this problem. We have to stop the poaching in order to protect our vultures but one rhino, one elephant kills over 600 vultures at one time and still, the large mammals receive attention but our vultures are not seen to have the same conservation value as the five other large, big  mammals. Right now, I am at a loss as to how to protect these awe-inspiring birds with regards to mass poisoning of poached animals.

AR: What is your greatest hope for our planet at this time?

KW: Hmm, it depends if I need to be politically correct or not. I believe we have too many people on this planet and through human greed, we will lose our natural resources, species will go extinct in our lifetime and yet humans will continue to thrive until it is too late.

My biggest hope is that the world stands together, taking a stance on human reproduction, and that animals will be seen as living beings too. I wish for animals to be given the love, care and attention they deserve as I see so many domesticated animals in shelters, being euthanised, badly treated by people etc.

It is time for the good people of the world to stand together and stop the animal abuse, to stop the poaching of wildlife and to protect what was given to us to protect. The Bible talks about how Man was put here to rule over the animals, while I actually believe man was put here to protect and preserve animals, not kill or mistreat them for selfish gain.

I am not a vegetarian but I believe if you want to hunt, you should hunt on an even footing with the animals, giving both human and animal an equal chance, not canned hunting as we now see in modern hunting ways. In South Africa, I wish consequence would come back—i.e if you steal something, your hand gets chopped off, if you rape, you get the death penalty etc. etc. Without consequence, our world has no chance of a sustainable future.


About Kerri Wolter: Kerri has always been passionate about animals and the environment and much of her youth was spent horseriding and with her dogs. Fortune led her to meet Professor Gerhard Verdoorn, then Head of the Vulture Study, Raptor Conservation and Poison Working Groups of the Endangered Wildlife Trust where she was appointed manager of the Vulture Study Group. She remained for two  years and then moved on in 2005 to manage the Vulture Unit at the De Wildt Cheetah & Wildlife Trust. The opportunity arose there for her to hand-raise her first vulture and her passion and dedication towards the cause of vultures took off in earnest. She left De Wildt at the end of 2006 to establish the Vulture Programme under the wing of the Rhino & Lion Wildlife Conservation NPO, now independent as VulPro. So now, Kerri has been involved in vulture conservation for nine years, and has no doubt that vulture conservation is her calling in life and a cause to which she is wholly dedicated in heart and soul. For more information, visit her VulPro website.


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Assistant Ed: Jamie Khoo/ Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photos from author}

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