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White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus
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Justification
This species has declined severely in parts of its range and overall it is suspected to have undergone a very rapid decline owing to habitat loss and conversion to agro-pastoral systems, declines in wild ungulate populations, hunting for trade, persecution, collisions and poisoning. These declines are likely to continue into the future. For this reason it has been uplisted to Endangered.

Taxonomic source(s)
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.

Identification
94 cm. A medium-sized vulture. Brownish to cream coloured as an adult. Contrastingly dark tail and flight feathers, especially from below. White rump patch and ruff. Dark neck and paler head with an all dark bill. Juvenile birds are darker. Similar spp. Within its range most likely to be confused with G. rueppellii or G. fulvus. Both of these species have a pale outer half to their bill and do not show such a marked contrast between the underwing-coverts and flight feathers from below.

Distribution and population
Gyps africanus is the most widespread and common vulture in Africa, although it is now undergoing rapid declines. It occurs from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west, throughout the Sahel region to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east, through East Africa into Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa in the south. Its global population has been estimated at 270,000 individuals. Consistent with other vulture species, it has declined by over 90% in West Africa (J. M. Thiollay in litt. 2006), and it has largely disappeared from Ghana apart from Mole National Park (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2011), Niger (no records away from W National Park since 1997, J. Brouwer in litt. 2012) and Nigeria (no sightings in 2011 in last stronghold of Yankari Game Reserve, nor anywhere else, and possibly extirpated from the country, P. Hall in ltt. 2011). The species has also declined in Sudan and South Sudan (Nikolaus 2006), Somalia (A. Jama in litt. 2011) and Kenya (c.52% declines in Masai Mara over c.15 years, M. Virani in litt. 2006, Virani et al. 2011), but is apparently more stable in Ethiopia (Nikolaus 2006), Tanzania (D. Peterson in litt. 2006), and across southern Africa where an estimated 40,000 individuals remain (R. Simmons in litt. 2006). Nevertheless, it is suspected to have declined very rapidly overall.


Population justification
The species's global population has been estimated at 270,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Declines have exceeded 90% in West Africa (Thiollay 2006), and have also occurred in other parts of the range including Sudan (Nikolaus 2006) and Kenya (M. Virani in litt. 2006), but populations are apparently stable in Ethiopia (Nikolaus 2006) and Tanzania (D. Peterson in litt. 2006). Virani et al. (2011) documented an apparent decline of c.52% over c.15 years in the numbers of Gyps vultures present in the Masai Mara (Kenya) during the ungulate migration season, while in central Kenya an apparent decline of 69% was noted in the numbers of Gyps vultures between 2001 and 2003 (Ogada and Keesing 2010). As these are visiting individuals from a wide-ranging population, declines observed in the Masai Mara study may be representative of declines in Gyps populations ranging across East Africa from Southern Ethiopia to Southern Tanzania (C. Kendall in litt. 2012). Overall trends are difficult to quantify but are suspected to have exceeded 50% over three generations (55 years).

Ecology
Primarily a lowland species of open wooded savanna, particularly areas of Acacia. It requires tall trees for nesting. A gregarious species congregating at carcasses, in thermals and at roost sites. It nests in loose colonies.

Threats
The species faces similar threats to other African vultures, being susceptible to habitat conversion to agro-pastoral systems, loss of wild ungulates leading to a reduced availability of carrion, hunting for trade, persecution and poisoning. In East Africa, the primary issue is poisoning (particularly from the highly toxic pesticide carbofuran), which occurs primarily outside protected areas; the large range sizes of this and G. rueppellii species puts them at significant risk as it means they inevitably spend considerable time outside protected areas (Ogada and Keesing 2010, Otieno et al. 2010, Kendall and Virani in press). Recent evidence from wing-tagging and telemetry studies suggests that annual mortality, primarily from incidental poisoning, can be as high as 25% for G. africanus (Kendall and Virani in press). In addition, the ungulate wildlife populations on which this species relies have declined precipitously throughout East Africa, even in protected areas (Western et al. 2009). In 2007, diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania (BirdLife International 2007). It was also reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes (C. Bowden in litt. 2007) and exporting it to 15 African countries (BirdLife International 2007). In southern Africa, vultures are caught and consumed for perceived medicinal and psychological benefits (McKean and Botha 2007), and the decline and possible extirpation in Nigeria has been attributed to the trade in vulture parts for traditional juju practices (P. Hall in litt. 2011). As a result of this and environmental pressures, it is predicted that the population of G. africanus in Zululand could be become locally extinct in 26 years, unless harvest rates have been underestimated, in which case local extinction could be 10-11 years away (McKean and Botha 2007). There is evidence that it is captured for international trade; for example in 2005, 13 individuals of this species being kept illegally in Italy were reportedly confiscated (F. Genero in litt. 2005). Electrocution on powerlines is also a problem in parts of its range, and it is vulnerable to nest harvesting or disturbance by humans (Bamford et al. 2009); perhaps more so than G. rueppellii, as it breeds in trees rather than on inaccessible cliffs (C. Kendall in litt. 2012).


Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs in a number of protected areas thoughout its range. A press release was circulated in July 2007 to raise awareness of the impacts of hunting for medicinal and cultural reasons in southern Africa (McKean and Botha 2007). 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, C. Bowden in litt. 2008).Conservation Actions Proposed
Establish a monitoring network for African vultures. Establish legal protection for the species in range states. Raise awareness amongst pastoralists of the dangers of using poisons for pest control. Eliminate the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa. Limit the hunting of game to improve the availability of carrion. Carry out education and awareness programmes, particularly targetted at farmers, to reduce persecution, unintentional poisoning and hunting for cultural reasons.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

References
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.

Bamford, A. J.; Monadjem, A.; Hardy, I. C. W. 2009. Nesting habitat preference of the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus and the effects of anthopogenic disturbance. Ibis 151(1): 51-62.

BirdLife International. 2008. Drugs firms told to do more to prevent vulture extinctions. Available at: #http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2008/08/indian_drug_announcemment.html#.

Kendall, C.; Virani, M. in press. Assessing mortality of african vultures using wing tags and GSM-GPS transmitters. Journal of Raptor Research.

McKean, S.; Botha, A. 2007. Traditional medicine demand threatens vultures in Southern Africa.

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

Nikolaus, G. 2006. Commentary: where have the African vultures gone? Vulture News: 65-67.

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.

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.

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.

Western, D.; Russell, S.; Cuthill, I. 2009. The Status of Wildlife in Protected Areas Compared to Non-Protected Areas of Kenya. PLoS One 4(7): e6140.

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

View photos and videos and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Bird, J., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Contributors
Baker, N., Barlow, C., Bowden, C., Genero, F., Hancock, P., Millington, L., Ndang'ang'a, P., Peterson, D., Pomeroy, D., Simmons, R., Thiollay, J., Thomsett, S., Virani, M., Scott, M., Buij, R., Ogada, D., Jama, A., Roxburgh, L., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Hall,

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Gyps africanus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/08/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/08/2014.

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 - White-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles)
Species name author Salvadori, 1865
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 11,300,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change