Bula was a young lappet faced vulture, a permanent resident at Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre, nr. Hoedspruit in South Africa. We met Bula when we went to Moholoholo to be volunteers in July 2014. He wasn’t one of our personal charges but we were absolutely fascinated by him.


Bula Lappett faced vulture Moholoholo

I guess this was partly because we had never been this close to a vulture, never mind one of nature’s true ‘can openers’, the lappet-faced vulture. They are called this because their curved beak is so strong its role is to be first on the scene at a dead animal or carrion to open up the carcass. It is so powerful that it can even tear open the thick hide of a buffalo!


Lappet-faced vultures are endangered in Africa, largely due to ‘muti’ or witchcraft. Some black South Africans believe because of their amazing long distance vision they are clairvoyant, and if eaten, their powers are passed down. This belief has meant that hundreds and thousands have been poisoned and killed for this purpose alone.

Bula and the eye

Bula was found as a chick having fallen out of his nest. He couldn’t be returned to the nest and so was rescued and hand reared. He wasn’t quite one year old but was already quite a big bird as fully grown, they are the largest of South African vultures. He couldn’t be put in the other vultures enclosure as they would have killed him. So he was kept on a small enclosure all on his own.  Maybe that’s why we had a soft spot for him.

Teaching Bula to Fly to the Glove

His handler Jaun was training him to fly to the glove and some of the braver volunteers had a go at being the arm in the glove. This was some challenge as you can imagine and became a right of passage for the volunteers!

Bula big bird on arm

I loved him because he did the best Dracula impersonation I have seen in a long time. The way he would hunch his shoulders to half dissapear his head into his neck was weird. That and part spreading his wings added to the cape-like look, and then his evil walking hop topped it off! The video tells it all.

Watch Tony trying to fly Bula as well. Despite having some previous experience with raptors, he was pretty weary of Bula because of his size and attitude. Very funny!


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[Photos and videos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]

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