Cape Vultures


These sketches of Gyps coprotheres (Cape vultures) are from a set of 27 drawings on 15 sheets that was discovered in the National Library of South Africa in 1986. The drawings are important for presenting the earliest realistic depictions of the Khoikhoi, the original inhabitants of the Western Cape. The note, in Dutch, explains: “These birds are called ‘strontvogels’ [excrement birds] by the Hottentots, but African eagles by the Dutch. Wherever they find a beast, be it small or large, that has died or has been shot, there they are in a crowd, and in half an hour’s time together they can well devour a hartebeest. These are as large as a swan. Other kinds of ‘strontvogels’ have been found which are smaller and altogether grey with a reddish tint.” It is not clear why the head of the vulture at the bottom has been drawn sliced in two; perhaps this was an attempt to imitate a heraldic symbol such as the two-headed Bavarian eagle. Hottentots was the historic name for the Khoikhoi at the time of white settlement and is now considered derogatory. The artist most likely was a Dutchman, born in the 17th century, who was attached in some capacity to the Dutch East India Company and possibly en route to the Dutch East Indies or on his way back to the Netherlands when he visited the Cape. Evidence suggests that the drawings were made no later than 1713, and possibly a good deal earlier. Most of the drawings have annotations, made by another person, also unidentified, after 1730.

Date Created

Subject Date


Additional Subjects

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 drawing : pen and black ink on paper ; 30 x 20 centimeters


  • Reproduced as Plate 20 in The Khoikhoi at the Cape of Good Hope: Seventeenth-century drawings in the South African Library / text by Andrew B. Smith, from which this description is adapted. On recto of Notes on architectural perspective (INIL 6257v); number 6257 of a set: INIL 6250-6264.

Last updated: July 2, 2015