African vultures are in trouble
Hooded Vultures clean up at a dump. Photo by Mike Wilkes
Article by Dr. Kieth Bildstein on upcoming Hooded Vulture Research
The Vulture Chronicles (blog posts from the field)
Vultures of Africa coloring book
To say there is an “African Vulture Crisis” is an understatement. Of the 11 species found in Africa, seven are listed as either globally Near-Threatened (3), Vulnerable (3), or Endangered (1). This dismal situation reflects a broader global problem for scavenging raptors: 14 of the world’s 23 species of vultures—more than half—are now threatened with extinction.
If something is not done quickly, the number of feral dogs and other scavengers will rise, along with cases of human rabies and other disease. Economically, the situation will worsen with a drop in nature tourism, and the draining cost of health care to a society already hard-pressed.
The need for action is now and this study is a critical first step, designed to better protect these birds both now and into the future.
Hawk Mountain work began September 2013 in The Gambia, West Africa, with the placement of four tracking units on Hooded Vultures in collaboration with The Gambia Department of Parks and Wildlife Management and raptor specialist Clive Barlow. Work continued later in autumn 2013 with tracking units being placed on individual birds in Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa.
Working with our global colleagues, we will place satellite-tracking devices on Hooded Vultures in Kenya, Ethiopia, The Gambia and Ghana (see map) and survey the birds throughout their range.
- Assess the movement ecology of Hooded Vultures in both East and West Africa
- Identify factors responsible for declines
- Work together with government officials and local residents, as well as with local, regional, and international conservation organizations, to reverse declines in populations of Hooded Vultures and other African vultures.
- Provide focused outreach to schoolchildren.
Threats to Vultures
As vultures decline, the number of feral dogs rise bringing increases in disease. Photo by Corinne Kendall, Ph.D.
Hooded Vultures face numerous threats, most related to human persecution:
- Hunting for food. Hooded Vultures, both fresh and smoked, are currently offered in food markets in West Africa. The situation appears to have worsened recently.
- Use in witchcraft. Recently, people have come to believe that consuming the brains of vultures delivers the gift of clairvoyance, which can be useful in predicting the outcomes of soccer matches and other sporting events.
- Incidental poisoning. As human populations continue to grow, their livestock also increases. One tactic that farmers use is to poison carcasses which in turn will kill the predators to their livestock. Caught in this crossfire are vultures, dozens of which can be killed at a single poison-laced carcass.
- Poachers. In southern Africa big-game poachers poison vultures in order to avoid large gatherings at their elephant and rhinoceros kills, a signal that would alert game wardens.
What we know and don't know
The Hooded Vulture will be the focus of new research
- Hooded Vultures declines are estimated at more than 50% during the last 50 years.
- Long-term roadside counts in West Africa, an area believed to be a stronghold for the species, suggest population declines of 45% in 35 years.
- Studies in the Masai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya suggest significant declines in protected areas.
- The movement ecology of Hooded Vultures is largely unknown. Knowledge of the sizes and locations of the ecological neighborhoods of individual Hooded Vultures is key to better protecting this species.
- The extent to which Hooded Vultures and feral dogs compete at carcasses is unknown.
- The principal factors causing the widespread population declines remain largely unstudied and unknown.
- In the short-term, our lack of knowledge regarding the conservation ecology of the species is our greatest concern.
- There is tremendous opportunity to engage in collaborative conservation action with African colleagues to learn more about this species rapidly. Doing so is of the upmost importance.
Support for African Vultures
To support this important research, please contact:
Dr. Keith Bildstein
Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science
410 Summer Valley Road, Orwigsburg, Pa