The vultures are circling high above the African wilderness and, sitting calmly in the middle of the flock, is a woman who is beaming with joy.
Most of us would run a mile from the sinister creatures but Kerri Wolter is in heaven paragliding among the wheeling, soaring birds.
She can see beyond the scavengers’ vicious claws, scrawny necks and hooked beaks that tear into animal carcasses.
Kerri, 36, said: “When you’re up close and personal with them, you learn things other people don’t understand.
“They are as individual as humans, with personalities and moods.
“They might look mean but they are gentle and intelligent. They fly right alongside and are very curious – they just want to play with you.
“To see them wild and free like that was almost spiritual, a reason for us to carry on our conservation efforts on their behalf.”
Kerri has worked with vultures for 11 years, since leaving her admin job with a chemical manufacturer.
She had applied for a conservation post and before she knew it was in charge of a vulture study, despite knowing nothing about the birds of prey.
But nursing a 10-day-old chick through to adulthood changed Kerri.
She said: “The passion just grew, it never subsided.”
She cares for Cape vultures at the VulPro centre, Pretoria, South Africa with Walter Neser – expert paraglider and fellow conservationist
The birds live off decaying dead animals – and keepdown disease risks for livestock and wildlife.
Yet the carrion eaters are threatened by the loss of the animals they feed on, power lines and poisoning.
Now Cape vultures, extinct in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Namibia, have been reduced to just 2,900 breeding pairs in the wild.
An entire colony was recently wiped out after feeding on the bodies of 100 elephants which had been killed by poachers using cyanide.
Kerri, who rears chicks for release into the wild as well as rescuing and rehabilitating injured birds, said: “The breeding population just can’t sustain that kind of loss.”
Farmers put down poison for vermin which then has to be flushed out of vultures using water and antibiotics. The birds also break their legs and wings flying into power lines.
She said: “We release them if we can, but we also have about 80 birds at our rescue centre who will be with us their whole lives, perhaps 45 years, as their wings are too broken or had to be amputated.”
Kerri, who takes the birds to local schools and communities, is currently hand-rearing fluffy three-month-old PJ, which lives in her house because “the other birds bully him”.
She said: “He likes to sleep in the shower at night, where it’s warm.”
Kerri’s efforts are making farmers more careful about using poison as they realise without vultures diseased carcasses could infect livestock.
She said: “People need to understand that vultures are graceful creatures who do us a lot of favours. We need to value them as we do elephants and rhinos.
“But poachers don’t care about research or ethics – money speaks louder.
“Vultures are in great danger and if they go it will affect every single one of us.
“They lack a voice, they’re the underdog of the animal world and critically misunderstood. Somebody has to speak up for them – they chose me.”
To donate to Kerri’s project go to www.vulpro.com