EWT leads in vulture conservation at 14th COP to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

By Johan Botha and Eleanor Momberg

The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), recently held in Uzbekistan, saw the launch of a number of reports, most notably the first analysis on the Status of the World’s Migratory Species and the review of the Mid-Term Implementation Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP).


The landmark UN report on the World’s Migratory Species showed that animals are on the decline increasing the global extinction risk. The report provides a global overview of the conservation status and population trends of migratory animals, combined with the latest information on their main threats and successful actions to save them.


It reveals that while some of the 1,189 migratory species listed under CMS are improving, nearly half (44 per cent) are showing population declines, and that more than one-in-five (22 per cent) of CMS-listed species are threatened with extinction. Globally, 399 migratory species that are threatened or near threatened with extinction are not listed under CMS.

Over the past 30 years, 70 CMS-listed migratory species – including the steppe eagle, Egyptian vulture and the wild camel – have become more endangered. This contrasts with just 14 listed species that now have an improved conservation status – these include blue and humpback whales, the white-tailed sea eagle and the black-faced spoonbill.


“The extinction risk is growing for migratory species globally, including those not listed under CMS. Fifty-one percent of Key Biodiversity Areas identified as important for CMS-listed migratory animals do not have protected status, and 58 per cent of the monitored sites recognized as being important for CMS-listed species are experiencing unsustainable levels of human-caused pressure,” the report states.

It adds that the two greatest threats to both CMS-listed and all migratory species are overexploitation and habitat loss due to human activity. Three out of four CMS-listed species are impacted by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, and seven out of ten CMS-listed species are impacted by overexploitation (including intentional taking as well as incidental capture). Climate change, pollution and invasive species are also having profound impacts on migratory species.

Until now, no such comprehensive assessment on migratory species has been carried out. The report provides a global overview of the conservation status and population trends of migratory animals, combined with the latest information on their main threats and successful actions to save them.

The report’s findings underline the need for greater action, for all migratory species. Among the recommendations are the strengthening and expansion of efforts to tackle illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species, as well as incidental capture of non-target species; increased actions to identify, protect, connect and effectively manage important sites for migratory species; and the need to not only urgently address those species most in danger of extinction, but also scaling up efforts to tackle climate change, as well as light, noise, chemical and plastic pollution.


It was in the compilation of the review of the Mid-Term Implementation Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP) that the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) played a significant role after the organisation was contracted through a CMS Raptors Memorandum of Understanding in April 2023 to lead the process. The EWT’s Vultures for Africa Program Manager, Andre Botha being appointed as project leader. He was joined by the EWT’s Jane Doherty, representatives from BirdLife International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Vulture Conservation Foundation, supported by the Coordinating Unit of the CMS Raptors MoU. Jane Doherty was appointed as project intern in the employ of the EWT and was invaluable during the engagement with focal points, analysis of data and drafting of the report.


The Vulture MsAP was tabled by Andre Botha at a side-event attended by about 60 delegates from Range States, Observer Groups as well as 6 members of the drafting team on 14 February 2024.

Among its key findings are that although the threats affecting vultures have not changed in recent years problems related to intentional poisoning for belief-based use, bushmeat and trade is a more severe problem than appreciated in the past, especially in West Africa. It also found that collision risk for vultures will increase as the global shift to renewable energy increases and that mortalities from electrocution partly associated the switch to green energy is also on the rise.

Among the new threats identified are climate change, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza which can seriously impact critically endangered and endangered species already under pressure from other known threats.

Although some vulture populations are increasing in Europe, many are declining at a precipitous rate in Africa where data remains scant.

The report states that the amount of work done towards achieving the Results envisaged by the Vulture MsAP is testament to the efforts of many stakeholders, including the many NGOs working in the field.

The main recommendations emerging for Range States, donors and other stakeholders from this report are:

  1. Strengthen political engagement and financial support
  2. Build capacity to implement conservation actions
  3. Focus on the implementation of Essential Actions
  4. Enable the establishment of the Implementation Framework proposed by the Vulture MsAP
  5. Continue facilitating the Vulture Working Group and monitoring the Vulture MsAP
  6. Commence the review and update of the CMS Vulture MsAP – 2028/2029

The MsAP was adopted at the CMS CoP12 and is now halfway through its 12-year implementation timeframe. It is set to conclude in 2029.

The side-event was also used to announce the West African Vulture Conservation Action Plan that specifically focuses on reducing the impact of the threat of belief-based use poisoning of vultures in 15 countries in West Africa where this is the most important driver of vulture declines. The plan follows a process of engagement subsequent to the mass-poisoning of more than 2,000 vultures in Guinea-Bissau in March 2020 and a regional workshop that was held in Nigeria in 2022.

There were also a number of vulture-focused resolutions tabled for consideration, discussion and adoption by the plenary of COP14 and all of these resolutions were adopted after deliberation in the Avian Working Group of CMS.

Additionally, Botha represented the EWT at two side-events focused on mobilising conservation resources and sustained funding where he delivered presentations on achieving financial viability over time from a range of donors and other funding institutions and also reflected on the benefits, challenges and lessons learnt from four EWT projects that benefitted from funding granted by the SOS Fund.

“The COP also afforded an opportunity to meet formally and informally with a range of stakeholders from Range States, NGO’s and other institutions and also afforded the MsAP-team to discuss future plans such as the review and update of the CMS Vulture MsAP for another 12-year timeframe from 2029. These discussions often lead to opportunities for future projects and other engagements,” said Botha at the conclusion of the CoP.

Future work is mostly focused on supporting and promoting the action of the CMS Vulture MsAP in Africa and beyond with fieldwork and training that will be conducted in Chad, Malawi, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Ethiopia in the coming months. The next wider international engagement will be the attendance of a workshop focused on the establishment of a population of critically endangered Rüppell’s Vultures in southern Europe which will be held in Málaga, Spain in mid-May 2024.

Botha said after the CMS CoP that about 20 delegates arranged their own field trip which saw them travel into the mountains to the south of Samarkand “where we enjoyed a number of views of Bearded Vultures and also saw Eurasian- and Himalayan Griffon, as well as Cinerous Vulture and Golden Eagle among an array of birds”.

A couple of shots of one of the Bearded Vultures we found on the field-trip yesterday. This bird was circling over the town of Kitob and obligingly approached us to circle above us after gliding by a distant cliff-face with the Uzbekistan flag planted on top. It was amazing to see these birds seemingly successfully living and breeding in close proximity to human settlements. Still can’t help but liken the effortless flight of these large birds to that of albatrosses over the ocean.