Science Snippets:The African Vulture Crisis- what do we know?

Dr Lindy Thompson and John Davies, EWT Birds of Prey Programme, lindyt@ewt.org.za, johnd@ewt.org.za

Most populations of vultures in Africa are declining rapidly, and conservationists are calling this an ‘African Vulture Crisis’1. There has been an increasing focus on the movements of vultures using tracking devices, but so far, there are very few continent-wide studies 2. To address this, a group of 35 researchers pooled their tracking data from 163 vultures to look at how vulture movements vary across Africa and how vultures are using protected areas in a new study published in Biological Conservation 3. The researchers found that breeding adult vultures had smaller ranges than non-breeding adults and immature vultures. Adult Rüppell’s Vultures had range sizes larger than 75,000 km2, while Cape Vultures and White-backed Vultures had range sizes of up to 36,000 km2. But the overlap of vultures’ ranges with protected areas was low, which poses significant challenges for conserving African vultures, particularly since the main threat to vultures, the intentional poisoning of carcasses, is widespread, and one poisoning event can kill large numbers of vultures because most species of vultures are social feeders. Successful conservation of vultures relies on reducing wildlife poisoning over vast areas, both inside and outside of protected areas, by tackling the drivers of poisoning. These drivers include human-wildlife conflict, trade in vulture parts4, and elephant poaching 5. For African vultures to survive and thrive, we need better law enforcement and anti-poaching, reduced human-wildlife conflict, and prevention of the illegal trade in vulture parts. Studies using tracked vultures should help prioritise where these interventions are needed most.                                                                                  Full article available here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109516   

References:

1 Ogada D. et al. (2016). Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction. Conservation Letters 9: 89-97. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12182

2 Thompson L.J. et al. (2020). Variation in monthly sizes of home‐ranges of Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus in western, eastern and southern Africa. Ibis 162: 1324-1338. https://doi.org/10.1111/ibi.12836

3 Kane A. et al. (2022) Understanding continent-wide variation in vulture ranging behavior to assess feasibility of Vulture Safe Zones in Africa: Challenges and possibilities. Biological Conservation 268: 109516. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109516

4 Mashele N.M. et al. (2021). Uses of vultures in traditional medicines in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region, South Africa. Journal of Raptor Research 55: 328-339. https://doi.org/10.3356/JRR-20-36

5 Mateo-Tomás P. and López-Bao J.V. (2020). Poisoning poached megafauna can boost trade in African vultures. Biological Conservation 241: 108389. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108389

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