Saving Africa's Vultures

Vultures: nature's clean-up crew

Most vultures are teetering on the brink of extinction across Africa. We must do everything we can to save these unsung heroes.


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Worldwide, vultures are considered one of the most threatened groups of birds. Africa supports 11 vulture species: 6 are confined to the continent, while the rest also occur elsewhere in Eurasia. Seven of these vultures are on the edge of extinction,  categorised as globally Endangered or Critically Endangered by BirdLife as the authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A common misconception

What do you think of vultures?

Vultures have had a tough time in the public eye. They are saddled with cultural perceptions relating to death, decay and maliciousness.

On top of this, some species are not renowned for being the prettiest… Vultures are the outcasts, left lacking the compassion that we feel for the plight of the endangered lion, eagle or panda.

In a survey conducted by BirdLife International, 75% of people think of vultures as dirty undertakers – the thought that they circle helpless prey a common theme.

Conversely, these cautious creatures are themselves the ones that are helpless to the threat of human persecution.


The rarest unsung hero

Vultures are affectionately known by nature-lovers worldwide as ‘Nature’s Clean-up Crew’. They clean our landscapes like no other - nature's most successful scavengers. And they do all this for free.

They are in reality fantastically hygienic, caring parents, and quite shy characters – and in the right light you might say that some of these majestic soaring animals are beautiful ;)

Nature's very own biological recycling team, vultures play a vital role in clearing away carcasses and are likely to help limit disease transmission at carcasses. 

Without their heroics, these diseases contaminate water sources, creating a knock-on effect that threatens both ours and our animal compatriot’s lives.

Think: packs of feral dogs, rats, and less-efficiently consumed carcasses…

How would your local environment look (and smell) if the garbage-disposal team disappeared?

Also, an African safari tour would not be quite the same with hundreds of unconsumed carcasses around.


The harsh reality

Vultures are vanishing at alarming rates! They are poisoned, persecuted and electrocuted. Their habitats are degraded and their chicks starved. The human race have intentionally and inadvertently killed thousands of vultures in Africa, Asia and beyond.

"I can't imagine the African skies devoid of vultures", said Mark Anderson, Chief Executive, BirdLife South Africa. Can you?

Formerly abundant - now catastrophic declines. The facts:

  • In just 30 years vulture numbers in West Africa have declined by 95% outside protected areas.
  • Over the same period more than half of the vulture population in Kenya’s Masai Mara have gone.
  • Today 75% of old-world vultures are slipping toward extinction.
  • Hooded Vultures, traditionally widespread living alongside humans, have declined by 62% across Africa since the 1970s, and much more rapidly in some areas.
  • Only about 100 pairs of Bearded Vultures are left in South Africa having reduced from about 200 pairs 20-30 years ago.
  • 52% decline over a 30 year period in Gyps vulture numbers in the Masai Mara ecosystem, the most important area for vultures in East Africa.
  • Together, threats from poisoning and trade in traditional medicines account for 90% of reported vulture deaths in Africa.


Focusing our efforts

Distinctive and charismatic, vulture's are valuable for African wildlife tourism. (Photo: John Haslam @ Flickr)

"With a Ten Year Plan to save vultures in Africa, we are addressing all associated issues to stem the current decline”, said Paul Kariuki Ndang’ang’a, Leader, Species Science Team, BirdLife Africa.

In 2016 we focus primarily on stopping the poisoning epidemic in Africa. This includes developing and trialling evidence-based solutions for vulture conservation in Africa, raising awareness, influencing policy and creating Vulture Safe Zones.

“Your support for these unsung heroes is vital,” said Roger Safford, BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme Coordinator.

“Funds raised will go toward working on the ground with local people, governments, individual experts, institutions and our 24 BirdLife partners in Africa in a coordinated pan-African response to this vulture crisis.”

Be part of Nature’s Clean-up Crew and help us save these incredible creatures from extinction!


We've done it before - Asia

In Asia we saw a decline of vultures in India, Pakistan and Nepal almost overnight. Veterinary diclofenac caused an unprecedented decline in the three species - White-rumped, the long-billed and the slender-billed Vulture. Oriental white-backed Vulture declined by more than 99.9% between 1992 and 2007, with the loss of tens of millions of individuals.

Like vultures in Africa, it looked like all hope was lost...

However, years of campaigning by conservationists including BirdLife International, the governments of India, Nepal, and Pakistan banned veterinary formulations of diclofenac between 2006 and 2010.

There is still much to be done, but we are starting to win the fight for Asia's vultures and, with your support, we can do it for Africa's vultures too.


We've done it before - Albatrosses

Albatrosses have undergone rapid population declines, making them the most threatened group of seabirds and leaving many species close to extinction.

At BirdLife we're changing the way the world’s fisheries operate, to reduce seabird mortality.

We have formed the Albatross Task Force, the world's first international team of seabird bycatch mitigation instructors working at-sea on commercial fishing vessels, and we are leading at-sea testing of innovative new measures to prevent seabird bycatch.

Since its formation, we have seen dramatic reductions in the numbers of albatrosses and other seabirds killed, with the ATF in South Africa leading the way by demonstrating a sustained reduction of >85% in trawl and longline fisheries.

We're now also tackling the growing number of threats to seabirds, and can do the same for vultures across Africa.


How can you help?

Together we can restore Nature’s Clean-up Crew to their post as integral to our fully-functioning ecosystem. And maybe this time, the people of the world will look at them in the positive light and with the accolades they deserve.

You can support BirdLife's vital work in Africa to save vultures today by donating and by spreading the love for vultures amongst your friends, colleagues and family.

On behalf of BirdLife International and the vultures of Africa - thank you.

Lappet-faced vulture (CharlesAnderson@Flickr)

What is currently being done in Africa?

Across Africa, various actions are being undertaken to conserve vultures. However, most of them are small in scale. For example awareness and advocacy to combat poisoning and regulate use of agro-chemicals is being conducted in various countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and South Africa. General awareness campaigns are being done by BirdLife partner NGOs in at least nine countries especially through celebration of the annual International Vulture Awareness Day. Monitoring of vulture populations are done through road counts, carcass-based counts and annual site counts in e.g. in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, but it is not possible to do these every year due to resource limitations. Research on various aspects of vulture ecology is being conducted through separate small-scale projects in at least 13 BirdLife network countries. A preliminary survey has been done to assess the extent to which vulture parts are sold for use in traditional medicine in West Africa. In Zimbabwe, a national Vulture Conservation Action Plan is being compiled following a national workshop held in March 2015.  Vultures also benefit from an ongoing project that is mainstreaming conservation of migratory soaring birds into productive sectors in the Rift Valley and Red Sea Flyway, covering Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.   Most of these actions are done in collaborations with government agencies, universities and other NGOs. However they need to be significantly scaled-up and better coordinated for them to have greater impact for securing vultures - this is where you can help!