When the Walter Sisulu (Witwatersrand) National Botanical Garden was established in 1982, Black eagles (Aquila verreauxii) were already nesting on the cliffs adjacent to the imposing Witpoortjie Falls. Initial sightings of these magnificent raptors date back to the early 1940’s and the present day female eagle could well be the third or fourth generation since that era. In the early 1970’s visitors to the Witpoortjie Falls recall awesome sightings of the current female with her first mate.
The nest sites by the Witpoortjie Falls
Although, Black Eagles pair for life, they will replace their companion. In the Roodekrans scenario the female, Emoyeni replaced her mate 3 times after 2 of them disappeared. Eagle pairs spend approximately 95% of the daytime together, before nest refurbishment; this is a behavioural characteristic of black eagles. They will perch, fly and hunt together, should the female fly to the nest site the male will follow and usually hops onto the surrounding rocks. After eggs are laid and when there is a young chick on the nest paired black eagles spend very little time together. During nest building 77% of their time is spent together but this decreases dramatically to 6% during incubation. As the young eaglet grows the time spent together by black eagle pairs gradually increases again.
“The Black Eagles of Roodekrans”
The female black eagle is in charge of the nest site and can spend up to 94%-97% of her time alone on the nest, whereas the male will only spend 1%-5%. This shows the exclusiveness of the females. Once the eggs have hatched the male black eagle will spend less time in view of the nest, as he needs to provide prey for the female and the chick.
It remains quite incredible how the Roodekrans pair have tolerated the rapid rate of urbanisation and development within their immediate hunting area. The influx of visitors to the Garden, noise, lack of prey and competing against the elements must surely challenge their existence. The interference within and around the territory has escalated with stray and domestic dogs and vagrants being largely responsible for the reduction of their principal prey base, the dassie (Rock Hyrax). The eagles have had to adapt their prey base to include guinea fowl, francolin, red rock rabbit and in desperation the easiest prey –chickens, although this does not happen very often.
The recording of information on the Roodekrans eagles started on a very ad hoc basis by Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn of the Raptor Conservation Group, in 1988, which progressed to become a school study project by Albert Froneman. In 1992 Albert Froneman, Rob Harrison-White, Chris van Rooyen and Sally Panos, the latter serving on the committee at this time, initiated the Black Eagle Monitoring Project. The project was then a working group of Raptor Conservation Group.
The aims of the project at that stage were : –
To educate and inform the public about the Black Eagles and raptors in general.
To conserve and secure the Black Eagles in the Walter Sisulu (Witwatersrand) National Botanical Garden for future generations to enjoy.
To monitor and obtain vital information on their breeding cycle.
In 1998, Black Eagle Monitoring Project (BEMP) broke away from Raptor Conservation Group and became affiliated to the Walter Sisulu (Witwatersrand) National Botanical Garden. The project was renamed the Black Eagle Project Roodekrans (BEPR) and was registered as a Section 21, non- profit organisation, with its own constitution, bank accounts and appointed auditor. The project consists of a 7-member committee and approximately 30 dedicated volunteer members.
In 2006/7/8 the project placed a ring on the juvenile
eagles tarsus and took blood samples for correct sexing
Doing Wing Measurements
This project has proven how much can be learned and achieved by the voluntary efforts of a passionate amateur team. How much more remains to be learned? Who knows, but while the eagles remain the study shall go on. The importance of preserving the ‘Black Eagles of Roodekrans’ will remain the top priority of the project. Monitoring will continue as it is only through a thorough knowledge of these raptors that any arising problems can be rectified.
Details of Verreaux’s Eagle nestling ringed at Roodekrans (2006-2010) – Libby Woodcock (pers com)
“THE CROSS ONE”
The previous male eagle was admired by all who watched him and his memory will remain with everyone who knew him for many years to come. Each individual eagle carries his own identity and their own distinct features – Quatele looked so fierce with his over-hanging eyebrow, hence the name “the cross one” any prey would dive for cover. Monitors and volunteers carried out an intensive search in the surrounding area, but no trace was found. We have no idea what happened to Quatele – we can only presume that he was either shot, poisoned, captured or died of natural causes, but wherever you may be,
“May you always soar on great wings of destiny!”
“UPON THE WIND”
The grand old lady is probably over 40years old and is loved by many who have followed her life cycles with passionate interest. The first sightings of Emoyeni were in the early 1970’s with her first mate; unfortunately we do not know anything about him. Quatele was her second mate and she scoured the ridges searching for him when he disappeared in 1998. Emoyeni patiently taught her third mate Thulane everything she knew, tolerating his initial shortcomings, but now appreciating his newfound expertise. Many a lesson could be learnt from this magnificent black eagle.
“May the wind always be beneath your wings!!”
“THE SHY ONE “
The joyful outcome of 1998 was the arrival of the new male, just sexually mature, shy and inexperienced. Barely in his first year of adulthood, as he was small in length and wingspan, the “V” on his back was not quite developed and his inside leggings were still pale. He still had so much to learn, his insecurities with mating and nest building showed, but there again he had a patient teacher – Emoyeni. However, “the shy one” has proved to be a good pupil and has matured into a mighty species.
“He is Emoyeni’s mate for life now.”
“UNEXPECTED SURPRISE “
This is the year when the female Emoyeni disappeared in April. We noticed a new and young female Black Eagle in the garden and didn’t observe a confirmed sighting of Emoyeni after we noticed the new female.
“May you have a long and prosperous life”
This is the year when the male Thulane disappeared in June while eggs were on the nest. The female Makatsa incubated and raised the chick on the nest for more than a month before the new male was first observed in mid-July.
“He is Makatsa’s mate for life now.”