Cape Town - Bird conservationists fear proposed wind farms in northern Lesotho will have a devastating impact on two highly endangered vulture species.
They are the Bearded Vulture - known locally as the Lammergeier, and an iconic species in the Drakensberg - and the endemic Cape Vulture.
Other species that will come under threat from wind farms in the Lesotho Highlands are the Black Stork, Southern Bald Ibis and Lanner Falcon.
Ironically, last week the mountain kingdom was awarded World Heritage Status for its Sehlabathebe National Park in the south-east.
The UN World Heritage Committee that met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, praised the "spectacularly beautiful watershed area" that hosts flora and fauna of scientific importance and that is home to populations of Cape and Bearded vultures, as well as the endangered Maloti Minnow - a fish species found only here.
The heritage committee approved the inclusion of Sehlabathebe National Park into South Africa's uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park that was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2000. The enlarged site shared by Lesotho and South Africa will be named the Maloti Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site.
But Lesotho's first wind farm proposal, involving 42 turbines, is planned for Letseng-La-Terae, which borders the Royal Natal National Park and the original uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site.
It is planned by PowerNET Developments, a consortium owned by South African and Lesotho developers.
Writing in the latest newsletter of BirdLife SA, renewable energy manager Samantha Ralston said the proposed Letseng wind farm was small compared with others planned.
But the Lesotho Highlands was prime habitat for the already-declining populations of Bearded and Cape vultures, she pointed out.
"Unfortunately, large soaring birds appear to be particularly prone to colliding with wind turbines and we are concerned that the proposed wind farms could have devastating impacts on the local populations of these birds.
"Recent work by Sonja Krüger and Ian Rushworth illustrated that the introduction of just 80 turbines is likely to cause the local extinction of Bearded Vultures."
Placing wind farms in the correct location was critical to reducing their impact on birds, and BirdLife believed the proposed Letseng site was in an area "that is far from ideal".
It was committed to engaging with the Lesotho government, environmental consultants and local and international partners to ensure that unsustainable wind farms would not be developed, Ralston said.
"We strongly recommend that the Lesotho government undertakes a strategic environmental assessment for renewable energy. This will help set the region on the path towards developing renewable energy that is truly sustainable." - Cape Argus