An endangered white-backed vulture found on a road in central Harare is being given infrared therapy as vets try to determine whether he will get the use of his legs back.

Bird lovers on social media are cheering on Julius – as the vulture has been named – three weeks after he was found lying near Harare’s main post office, Birdlife Zimbabwe says.

Had Hardlife Mudzingwa, an official with Community Water Alliance, not been passing in the street and seen him, Julius might not have survived, according to his carers.

“There was already a crowd of onlookers gathering and some were suggesting that its head be cut off for religious purposes,” Birdlife Zimbabwe said in a post to Facebook.

Julius, who is three or four years old, was dehydrated and starving. Vets initially thought he had been poisoned. But given the injuries to his legs – both were paralysed when he was found – it appears he may have collided with something. Exactly what isn’t clear.

Carers made Julius a sling out of an old T-shirt and for the last two weeks he has been receiving infrared therapy, a treatment widely used in other parts of the world on vultures with injuries to their long legs.

Julius’s treatment is being administered by an expert who usually treats horses, according to Julia Pierini of Birdlife Zimbabwe.

She told News reports: “He’s been having infrared treatment every day for two weeks.”

But his legs aren’t recovering as quickly as might have been hoped.

Pierini said, “We saw immediately when [the expert] started her therapy, running this infrared gadget up and down the vulture’s back that the legs were jerking, and there was a reaction so we were like, ‘Yay, things are going to move forward now’. But [Julius] is still not on his legs.”

In other respects, Julius is doing very well, Pierini says. He has had to learn to eat out of a bowl, a skill he has quickly mastered.

“He’s eating on his own, he’s drinking on his own, he’s perky, he tries to bite you, his wings are really very strong but his legs – we’re not there yet,” she said.

Syliviah Chigonera posted on Birdlife Zimbabwe’s Facebook page: “Oooh Julius!! wish you a quick recovery you are very crucial to us.”

Bev Morgan said: “May you continue to do a great job, and we look forward to hearing about his progress.”

White-backed vultures are classified as critically-endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They have been under attack in southern Africa, where they are often poisoned.

Hundreds have died in recent years after feeding on the carcasses of other animals that have been poisoned.

The Vulture Conservation Foundation reported in January that 41 white-backed vultures had been found poisoned on the Zimbabwe side of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, likely by a farmer who was trying to kill off lions that were preying on his livestock.

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