The Drakensberg is home to an extraordinary variety of plants and animals as well as many endangered and threatened species. Pictures and text by Mohammed and Sharifa Jinnah

For us Giant’s Castle Game Reserve in the Drakensberg holds a very special attraction – the birdlife. Although you could be fortunate to see antelopes such as eland, bushbuck, oribi, mountain reedbuck and grey rhebuck; baboons and dassies could keep you well entertained too.

The special attractions of Giant’s Castle though, are the rare bearded and Cape vultures.

The Lammergeyer Hide is very popular and has to be booked well in advance. The secluded hide gives you the feeling of being all alone. If mist closes in below you, you have the feeling of being up in the clouds!

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Visitors are given bones by the hotel staff to scatter around. After this, the wait begins… Seven of the nine vulture species in South Africa are endangered. The Cape and the bearded vultures are included in the endangered list. We had the hide booked for a long weekend and were told by friends who had been there that we would definitely see both the Cape and bearded vulture but if they landed, this would be extra special.

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On the second morning we were delighted to see a Cape vulture land. What a beautiful bird to see from close up.

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The Cape vulture

The bearded vulture has a very different appearance from other vultures and they can easily be mistaken for an eagle. They do not have the bare necks distinctive of other vultures. The adult bearded vulture has a dark back and wings with rufous underparts and a distinctive dark beard that contrasts with its white face. The juvenile bearded vulture is chocolate brown with golden underparts but also has the distinctive dark beard.

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An adult and juvenile bearded vulture in flight.

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Though a scavenger, 70% of their diet is made up of bone and bone marrow. At a carcass they wait for the Cape vultures, ravens, crows and the jackals to reduce the carcass to a skeleton. Then they move in. They swallow the small bones whole; they are able to digest them. To get to the marrow in the larger bones, they fly up high with the bones in their talons and drop them from a great height onto large rocks to break them open. Their aim is quite accurate too. Though, when they have young to feed they do need meat as well.

We were lucky to see a bearded vulture land on our final morning at the hide – a very special moment.

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The bearded vulture