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The vulture and the tortoise

Do you know the reason why the tortoise’s shell is cracked? In the beginning of time the vulture and the tortoise were best friends and would meet up regularly for a beer and braai. Because the vulture could fly, he was always visiting the tortoise at his home. After a while it upset the tortoise that he was so slow and therefore unable to travel to his friend’s house. He was concerned that he might lose his friendship with the vulture because he never went to visit him at his house. What could he do to avoid his friend getting agitated by the fact he always was the one that needed to travel?

The tortoise made plan after plan, but discarded them much faster than he could walk. In the end he came up with a cunning plan to surprise the vulture with a visit. He decided that he would wrap himself in a bundle of reed mats and when the vulture next visited him, his wife would give them to his friend the vulture as a gift. His plan was fool proof – he would then fly back in secret with the vulture and surprise him when they reached his home.

So said, so done. The vulture and the tortoise always met as good friends did and did not need to make appointments. When the vulture next visited the tortoise at home, his wife apologized that her husband was not in and gave him the gift of wrapped mats to take home as compensation. The vulture was sad his friend was not in, but delighted to receive a gift. He could not wait to get home to show his own wife and took off. The tortoise had wrapped himself in such a way that he could peek out and see the landscape below. The higher they got, the more exuberant the tortoise got. His plan was working and boy, would you look at those views!

Finally, as the vulture flew home with the bundle in his talons, the tortoise called to him in excitement. The vulture, not expecting his gift to talk, got such a fright that he dropped him. The reed mats tumbled down from the sky and eventually hit the ground far below. But, because the tortoise was wrapped so tight in the reed mats, he survived the fall! However, the fall cracked the tortoises shell so badly that they have never healed and can still be seen in the shells of his descendants. Now you know why almost all tortoises have cracked shells…

Story adapted from “WHEN LIONS COULD FLY.”

Facts about vultures

Vultures are large birds most easily recognised by their featherless head and neck. Vultures tend to be found in remote areas where human habitation is minimal. They have a preference for open country where they roost in large groups on cliffs and in large trees. Their bad reputation is due to the fact they are purely scavengers and don’t hunt themselves. But they have a crucial role in cleaning up dead bodies and by doing this, prevent all kind of diseases breaking out in the bush.

Vultures begin to forage soon after sunrise, gliding at high altitudes and speeds of up to 60 kph. Upon spotting carrion, they can dive at a speed of over 120 kph. They have very sharp eyesight and watch for other smaller scavengers, lions and hyenas to give away the presence of carcasses that they can feed on. They only eat the soft parts, not the bones.

A single egg is laid in winter, both parents will help with incubation. The nest is usually built on a cliff or treetop and is a loose association of sticks, leaves and grass. Both parents nourish the chick which is able to feed itself within 45 days of birth; it usually leaves the nest after about 6 months.