Wildlife & Biodiversity

Africa’s vultures dwindling, says study

Raptors diminishing across continent due to a number of reasons

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 30 October 2015
(Clockwise from left) African White Backed Vulture, Rüppells Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Cape Vulture and African White-Headed Vulture. All six species' statuses were updated in the study. Credit: Flickr

The population of Africa’s iconic vultures is declining at a rapid pace and if steps are not taken to stem the decline, they will disappear altogether, a landmark study has warned.

The study was part of the latest assessment of birds for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species and was carried out by BirdLife International, a global partnership of conservation organisations.

The study upgraded the statuses of six of the 11 vulture species found on the continent. The hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) and white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) were upgraded from endangered to critically endangered, the white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) was upgraded from vulnerable to critically endangered and the Rüppell's Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) was upgraded from endangered to critically endangered. Another two species, the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and the lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos), which were vulnerable, are now endangered.

BirdLife International noted a number of reasons behind the raptors’ deaths. These include feeding on carcasses poisoned by livestock herders to kill predators on the ground, poisoning by poachers who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to the carcasses of illegally killed wildlife and being killed for their body parts, which are used in traditional medicine.

Habitat loss as well as collisions with wind turbines and electricity pylons is also contributing to vulture population declines.

“As well as robbing the African skies of one of their most iconic and spectacular groups of birds, the rapid decline of the continent’s vultures has profound consequences for its people—as vultures help stop the spread of diseases by cleaning up rotting carcasses,” Julius Arinaitwe, Africa programme director of BirdLife International, said in a statement.

“However, now we are becoming aware of the sheer scale of the declines involved, there is still just enough time for conservationists to work with law-makers, faith-based organizations, government agencies and local people, to make sure there is a future for these magnificent scavengers,” he added.

In another statement, Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission warned, “The vultures’ decline can have serious knock-on effects on other species and the many benefits provided by nature. While it is encouraging to see some positive outcomes of conservation action, this update is an important wake-up call, showing that urgent efforts need to be taken to protect these species.”

The African species' decline follows after similar troubles for the birds in Asia, where tens of millions of vultures have died as a result of eating cattle and buffalo carcasses containing the painkiller diclofenac.

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