email a friend
printable version
Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos

This species is classified as Vulnerable since only a small, declining population remains, owing primarily to poisoning and persecution, as well as ecosystem alterations.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Torgos tracheliotus Dowsett and Forbes-Watson (1993), Torgos tracheliotus AERC TAC (2003), Torgos tracheliotus Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993), Torgos tracheliotus Cramp and Simmons (1977-1994), Torgos tracheliotus BirdLife International (2000), Torgos tracheliotus BirdLife International (2004)

78-115 cm. Very large, long- and square-winged vulture. In flight, very black-looking with white thighs and white bar running across leading edge of underwing (from body to "wrist"). Naked, pinkish-skinned head. Similar spp. Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus is half the size. Voice Various hisses and cackles given at nest and, in aggression, at food, but less vocal than Gyps vultures. Hints Larger wingspan than any other vulture in Africa. Over much of its range, it mainly inhabits semi-arid or desert areas with only scattered trees and short grass (Mundy et al. 1992). Frequently seen in most large protected areas in eastern and southern Africa, particularly in Namibia. It is generally a sociable species, congregating at carcasses.

Distribution and population
Torgos tracheliotos breeds in Egypt, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, Saudi Arabia (an increasing population, in excess of 500 individuals [Newton and Shobrak 1993, M. Shobrak in litt. 2000]), United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and possibly Libya (Massa 1999). The species also occurs in The Gambia, northern Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Central African Republic and southern Angola (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is no longer thought to breed in Côte d'Ivoire (G. Rondeau in litt. 2007). It has been extinct in Algeria and Tunisia since the 1930s, and now only small populations remain in southern Egypt, and Mauritania (Mundy et al. 1992). The last records from Morocco concerned two birds in 1972 (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is considered likely to be extinct in Western Sahara, as it has not been recorded there since 1955 (Shimelis et al. 2005). In Nigeria, there has been a major decline since the late 1970s and it may now have been extirpated (Brown 1986, Shimelis et al. 2005). It probably previously bred in Jordan (Evans and Al-Mashaqbah 1996), has largely disappeared where formerly common in Somaliland (Somalia) (A. Jama in litt. 2009), and is considered extinct in Israel, where three birds remained until 1994 (Shimelis et al. 2005). The species was not recorded during surveys in 2004 in northern Mali and Niger along the same transects that yielded 96 birds in 1971-1973 (Thiollay 2006). The combination of these results with comparable transect surveys from Burkina Faso indicate a decline in abundance of c.97% in rural areas and c.39% in national parks between 1969-1973 and 2003-2004 (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004), and declines of 50% were also recorded between 1978-1986 and 2003-2005 on transects in the Masai Mara, Kenya (Virani et al. 2011). It is suffering a slow decline in southern Africa (Boshoff et al. 1997), although the population in central Mozambique is probably stable (Parker 2005). There are possibly 1,000 pairs (almost 3,000 individuals) in southern Africa, at least the same in east and north-east Africa, and possibly only c.500 pairs in West Africa and the Sahara, giving a total rough estimate of the African population of at least 8,000 individuals (Mundy et al. 1992).

Population justification
The African population is at least 8,000 individuals, and there may be 500 in the Middle East. This gives a total population of at least 8,500 individuals, roughly equivalent to 5,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The total population is suspected to be in decline at a moderately rapid rate, based on anecdotal information on regional declines, and extirpation in some parts of its range.

The species inhabits dry savannah, arid plains, deserts and open mountain slopes (Shimelis et al. 2005), up to 3,500 m (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007). In Ethiopia, it is also found at the edge of forests, having been recorded at Bonga forest and forest in Bale Mountains National Park in 2007, as well as the Afro-alpine habitats of the national park in 2005 (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007). It ranges widely when foraging (P. Hall in litt. 2000) and is mainly a scavenger, feeding predominantly on any large carcasses or their remains (Mundy 1982, Mundy et al. 1992). It is also known to hunt, probably taking a variety of small reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, and has been observed apparently group-hunting flamingo Phoenicopterus chicks (McCulloch 2006a, 2006b). It builds solitary nests (usually containing just one egg), often in Acacia (its distribution sometimes being limited by these trees' distribution [Boshoff et al. 1997]), but also in Balanites and Terminalia (Shimelis et al. 2005). It does not breed until at least six years old, then fledging c.0.4 young/pair/year (Mundy et al. 1992). Ringing studies in Namibia have revealed a very low return rate (Simmons and Bridgeford 1997). The species's minimum home range is thought to be 8 km2, and this can expand to 15 km2 in some habitats (Shimelis et al. 2005). In Mozambique, egg-laying occurs from late April until mid-August, with a peak in May and June (Parker 2005). A nest found in Oman contained a small chick in early March, and thought to have fledged in mid-June (Wernery 2009).

Widespread accidental poisoning, largely due to strychnine, used by many farmers for predator control, and more recently carbofuran, has contributed significantly to declines (Brown 1986, P. Hall in litt. 2000, Otieno et al. 2010, C. Kendall in litt. 2012). Several T. tracheliotos were found to have died after feeding on the carcass of a poisoned jackal in Namibia (Komen 2009). It is also often mistakenly persecuted as a livestock predator (Brown 1986): one major deliberate poisoning incident killed 86 individuals in Namibia (Simmons 1995). Other major threats to the species include nest predation by humans, reduced food availability and electrocution (Shimelis et al. 2005). Increasing use of agricultural pesticides may also be a problem for the species (Mundy et al. 1992), including those breeding at Tayma, Saudi Arabia (Shimelis et al. 2005). Nest disturbance, to which it is extremely sensitive (Steyn 1982), may be growing with an increase in forest settlements in Ethiopia (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007) and the increasing recreational use of off-road vehicles (Mundy et al. 1992). Breeding birds at Tayma could face disturbance from motorised vehicles in the desert (Shimelis et al. 2005). The population collapse in West Africa may be a result of higher nest disturbance, local extinctions of wild ungulates through habitat modification and over-hunting, intensified cattle farming in which sick or dying animals are rarely abandoned, and an increase in accidental poisoning (Thiollay 2006, Rondeau and Thiollay 2004), although the latter threat, in particular, requires further study (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). National vaccination campaigns in West Africa have reduced illness in domestic livestock, and sick animals can now be sold off, rather than abandoned, due to the proliferation of markets and abattoirs (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). The species may be hunted for medicine and cultural reasons in West Africa, and some ethnic groups in the sub-region hunt vultures for food, though the impact on this species is unknown (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). In central Mozambique, the population has declined due to a scarcity of game and livestock following the armed conflict of the 1970s and 1980s, and the surviving population continues to be threatened by the over-exploitation of game by poachers (Parker 2005). There are incidences of deliberate poisoning to kill vultures by poachers, due to the belief that the arriving birds will give away the locations of poached animals (Hancock 2009). In Ethiopia, the principal threat to the species is habitat loss on the lowland plains (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007, 2012). Potential introduction of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses may represent a potential future threat to the species.

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. The species was put forward as a candidate for the CITES Review of Significant Trade in 2004 (CITES in litt. 2004). It breeds in a number of protected areas within its extensive range. Ecological research is ongoing, notably in Saudi Arabia (Newton and Shobrak 1993). Following a workshop, a five-year international action plan for the species was published in 2005, with the aims of stabilising or increasing its populations, improving knowledge of its distribution, population size and trends and minimising the impact of human activities at key sites (Shimelis et al. 2005). A comprehensive study of the species in Botswana was planned for 2007 (P. Hancock in litt. 2006), and 221 chicks have been marked with patagial tags between 2006 and 2009 (Bridgeford 2009). In 2007, a survey began to establish the extent of diclofenac use for veterinary purposes in Tanzania (BirdLife International 2007), and in 2008 an awareness-raising campaign at a conference of the World Organisation for Animal Health in Senegal led to a resolution being adopted unanimously by more than 160 delegates to "request Members to consider their national situation with the aim to seek measures to find solutions to the problems caused by the administration of diclofenac in livestock" (Woodford et al. 2008).Conservation Actions Proposed
Organise coordinated surveys and monitoring throughout its range to clarify population size and decline rates. Conduct further ecological research (Brown 1986, Boshoff et al. 1997, Shobrak in press). Initiate awareness campaigns aimed at farmers, local communities, developers and ecotourists to reduce mortality from persecution, accidental poisoning and disturbance (Harrison et al. 1997, Boshoff et al. 1997, Barnes 2000, Shimelis et al. 2005, Shobrak in press). Identify important nesting areas (Shimelis et al. 2005). Carry out research into the effects of nest disturbance (Shimelis et al. 2005). Improve awareness amongst utilities and NGOs of hazardous pylon designs and suitable measures to prevent collisions through training courses and literature such as posters and best practice manuals (Shimelis et al. 2005). Increase awareness amongst farmers of suitable reservoir and drinking trough modification methods (Shimelis et al. 2005). Enforce legislation concerned with incorrect use of poisons and pesticides (Shimelis et al. 2005). Carry out research into the impacts of different poisons across its range (Shimelis et al. 2005). Study the impact of the species on livestock numbers and share information with stakeholders (Shimelis et al. 2005). Enact legislation against the persecution of the species (Shimelis et al. 2005). Encourage vulture feeding sites and the abandonment of livestock carcasses from death by natural causes (Shimelis et al. 2005). Provide enforcement for existing nature reserves in West Africa and design of a new one in northern Mali (Thiollay 2006). In West Africa, determine the severity of accidental poisoning, hunting of the species for medicine and cultural reasons, hunting for food, and the threat from the development of powerlines (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). Complete a vulture census for West Africa (Anderson 2005). Eliminate the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Anderson, M.D., Piper, S.E. and Swan, G.E. 2005. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug use in South Africa and possible effects on vultures. South African Journal of Science 101(3-4): 112-114.

Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

BirdLife International. 2008. Drugs firms told to do more to prevent vulture extinctions. Available at: #

Bridgeford, P. 2009. Monitoring breeding Lappet-faced Vultures in the Namib. African Raptors: 2-4.

Brown, C. J. 1986. Biology and conservation of the Lappet-faced Vulture in SWA/Namibia. Vulture News 16: 10-20.

Evans, M. I.; Al-Mashaqbah, S. 1996. Did Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos formerly breed in Jordan? Sandgrouse 18: 61.

Hancock, P. 2009. Botswana - major poisoning incidents. African Raptors: 10-11.

Harrison, J. A.; Allan, D. G.; Underhill, L. G.; Herremans, M.; Tree, A. J.; Parker, V.; Brown, C. J. 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.

Komen, L. 2009. Namibia - vultures killed deliberately and accidentally. African Raptors 2: 13.

Massa, B. 1999. New and less known birds from Libya. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 119: 129-133.

McCulloch, G. 2006. Lappet-faced Vulture - a social hunter? Africa - Birds & Birding 11: 32-34.

McCulloch, G. 2006. Lappet-faced Vultures - social hunters? Vulture News: 10-13.

Mundy, P. J. 1982. The comparative biology of Southern African vultures. Vulture Study Group, Johannesburg.

Mundy, P.; Butchart, D.; Ledger, J.; Piper, S. 1992. The vultures of Africa. Academic Press, London.

Newton, S. F.; Shobrak, M. 1993. The Lappet-faced vulture Torgos tracheliotos in Saudi Arabia. In: Wilson, R.T. (ed.), Proceedings of the eighth Pan-African Ornithological Congress: birds and the African environment, pp. 111-117. Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, Tervuren, Belgium.

Otieno, P. O.; Lalah, J. O.; Virani, M., Jondiko, I. O.; Schramm, K. 2010. Carbofuran and its toxic metabolites provide forensic evidence for Furadan exposure in vultures (Gyps africanus) in Kenya. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 84: 536-544.

Parker, V. 2005. Endangered Wildlife Trust and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Rondeau, G. and Thiollay, J.M. 2004. West African vulture decline. Vulture News 51: 13-31.

Shimelis, A.; Sande, E.; Evans, S.; Mundy, P. 2005. International action plan for Lappet-faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotus (Threatened Birds of Africa).

Shobrak, M. in press. Status and conservation of vultures in Saudi Arabia.

Simmons, R. 1995. Mass poisoning of Lappetfaced vultures in Namibia. Journal of African Raptor Biology 10: 3.

Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa. David Philip, Cape Town.

Thiollay, J.-M. 2006. Severe declines of large birds in the northern Sahel of West Africa: a long-term assessment. Bird Conservation International 16(4): 353-365.

Thiollay, J.-M. 2006. The decline of raptors in West Africa: long-term assessment and the role of protected areas. Ibis 148: 240-254.

Virani, M.; Kendall, C.; Njoroge, P.; Thomsett, S. 2011. Major declines in the abundance of vultures and other scavenging raptors in and around the Masai Mara ecosystem, Kenya. Biological Conservation 144: 746-752.

Wernery, U. 2009. A Lappet-faced Vulture nest in eastern Arabia. Phoenix: 15.

Woodford, M. H.; Bowden, C. G. R., Shah, N. 2008. Diclofenac in Asia and Africa – repeating the same mistake? Harmonisation and improvement of registration and quality control of Veterinary Medicinal Products in Africa - OIE World Organisation for Animal Health.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

International Action Plan

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Martin, R, Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Symes, A.

Bowden, C., Hall, P., Hancock, P., Rondeau, G., Shimelis, A., Shobrak, M., Thiollay, J., Kendall, C., Brouwer, J., Jama, A.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Torgos tracheliotos. Downloaded from on 05/10/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 05/10/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles)
Species name author (Forster, 1791)
Population size 5700 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 8,080,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change