Archived 2011-2012 topics: Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug): uplist to Endangered?

Deadline for comments: 14 February 2012.

BirdLife species factsheet for Saker Falcon

Saker Falcon Falco cherrug is distributed across the Palearctic region, having an extensive but sparsely populated breeding range from Central Europe to western China, with birds wintering generally to the south in parts of southern Europe, northern and eastern Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and China. It is currently listed as Vulnerable under criteria A2b,c,d; A3c,d; A4b,c,d, on the basis that it is estimated to have declined at a rate of 30–49% over the past 19 years (three generations, assuming a generation length of 6.4 years) and was projected to decline at 30–49% over the next 19 years, owing primarily to over-exploitation for trade, habitat degradation and the effects of agrochemicals.

This assessment was based on a detailed analysis by BirdLife of the estimated current and past (1990) population sizes in each of the countries within its distribution, drawing on and interpreting information from a wide range of published and unpublished literature, in particular for the most important range states of China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia, plus two states where there was recent evidence of rapid declines: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Estimates for populations in other range states were taken from Haines (2002) and Dixon (2007, 2009) without such detailed re-evaluation because they account for very small proportions of the global population and there is general consensus over their magnitude. The analysis incorporated input received during public consultation on the BirdLife Globally Threatened Bird Forums. An assessment of global trends based on these data (assuming exponential declines and using median national population estimates) suggested that the global rate of decline was c.32% over 19 years, with lower and upper bounds of 29–62% (based on minimum and maximum national population estimates). Given that data for a number of key countries are limited, extremely patchy, rarely based on robust surveys and often contradictory, the assessment as Vulnerable included clear caveats that further information was needed to improve our understanding of the species’s status, and that this information might prompt further reassessment of its Red List category.

Some such new data have been provided in recent publications by Moshkin (2010) and Levin (2011), who present past and present population sizes in the most important range states based on new data sources, particularly for local population trends. In comparison to the figures previously used by BirdLife, key differences in Moshkin’s (2010) estimates include higher estimates of 5,218 pairs in Kazakhstan and 6,500 pairs in Russia in 1990 and a lower estimate of 1,500 pairs in China in 2010. In addition, Levin (2011) gives a new present-day estimate of fewer than 1,000 pairs in Kazakhstan. We discuss these in turn below and consider their significance for the overall rate of decline, the calculation for which can be viewed in the spreadsheet attached.

Trend calculation spreadsheet:

Falco cherrug calculation of global rate of decline Jan 2012

China The estimate given by Moshkin (2010) for the current population in China, of only 1,500 pairs, is much lower than the estimate of 3,000–5,000 pairs given by Dixon (2009), which, following a review of the disparate estimates available for China, was used for the previous trend calculation carried out by BirdLife. In deriving his estimate, Dixon (2009) provides survey results but does not cite their sources. Moshkin (2010) bases his figure on an estimate of 1,000–2,000 pairs in 2007, as published in a report summary by the Xinjiang Conservation Fund (2008), but there is no indication in this report summary of how the estimate was derived. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that trapping pressure in China has been severe (e.g. Li et al. 2000, Xinjiang Conservation Fund 2008), and we precautionarily adopt the lower estimate of 1,500 pairs until better data are available, resulting in a raised estimate for the rate of decline in China over the past three generations.

Moshkin (2010) also criticises BirdLife’s use of an estimate of 4,000–6,000 pairs in China in 1990, which was arrived at by adding 1,000 pairs to the minimum and maximum of Dixon’s (2009) present-day estimate to account for trapping pressure in the intervening period. Moshkin (2010) draws attention to higher estimates, including one of 7,900–13,500 pairs in the 1980s and 1990s (Ye et al. 2001). Contradictorily, however, he asserts that, considering the prevalence of exploitation, a population reduction of 3.0–3.5 times since 1990 seems plausible for China because it is closer to the average rate for Russia and Kazakhstan, and thus estimates a population of 3,000–7,000 pairs in 1990 (Moshkin 2010) through retrospective extrapolation of the more recent estimate of 1,000–2,000 pairs (Xinjiang Conservation Fund 2008). The median of Moshkin’s (2010) revised estimate for 1990 is 5,000 pairs, the same as that used by BirdLife in the 2010 analysis, but Moshkin’s (2010) minimum and maximum estimates for 1990 of 3,000 and 7,000 pairs respectively are incorporated into the calculation of upper and lower trend estimates (see spreadsheet).

Kazakhstan Moshkin’s (2010) estimate for Kazakhstan in 1990 appears to be based on retrospective extrapolation of current estimates and trends. His estimate of 4,808–5,628 (median 5,218) pairs in 1990 is based on estimated regional (sub-national) rates of decline that average c.61% over 20 years, applied to current regional (sub-national) population estimates totalling 1,882–2,179 (median 2,031) pairs nationally, which appear to have been derived from data collected in 2002–2009. The median estimate for 1990 of 5,218 pairs is higher than the 3,500 pairs used by BirdLife, which itself is based on an estimate of 2,000–5,000 pairs for 1985 given by Levin (2000). Moshkin’s (2010) median estimate falls just above the upper estimate used previously by BirdLife. Following a precautionary approach, we now use Moshkin’s (2010) revised estimate for 1990, and therefore derive a more rapid rate of decline in Kazakhstan over the past three generations.

The calculated global rate of decline is further influenced by the incorporation of a new present-day estimate for Kazakhstan of fewer than 1,000 pairs (Levin 2011). An ‘expert assessment’ is presented by Levin (2011) in which the estimated numbers for five regions of Kazakhstan are given, with a resulting total of 980 pairs. However, no minimum-maximum estimates are given to indicate the level of certainty involved. Few clues are provided on exactly how these numbers were arrived at, although they appear to be based on surveys conducted in 2008–2011. Levin’s (2011) new estimate for the population in Kazakhstan is about half that estimated by Moshkin (2010) for 2010. The two estimates were derived from different but overlapping time periods. Levin’s lower population estimate is presumably because the declines are accelerating e.g. he reports a c.65% decline in Central Kazakhstan during 2006–2011, and this is consistent with evidence of severe and ongoing trapping pressure that he presents. Levin’s (2011) estimate is now the most up-to-date known for the country and is incorporated into the revised analysis on a precautionary basis.

Russia The estimate used by Moshkin (2010) for Russia of 6,500 pairs in 1990, (range: 5,700–7,300 pairs), is marginally higher than the median estimate of 6,000 pairs (range 3,000–9,000 pairs) used in BirdLife’s trend calculations and based on estimates given by Galushin (2004) and Karyakin (2008, in litt. 2010). Moshkin (2010) arrives at his estimate by extrapolating retrospectively from the estimate of 1,854–2,542 pairs in 2007 (median 2,198) provided by Karyakin (2008), which was also used in the previous BirdLife analysis for the 2010 population size in Russia. The rates of decline used by Moshkin (2010) for the historic extrapolations are derived from regional decline estimates. In light of these decline estimates, we use Moshkin’s (2010) higher estimate of 6,500 pairs in 1990, resulting in a slightly increased estimate for the rate of decline in Russia over the past three generations.

Mongolia Moshkin (2010) also estimates that Mongolia harboured 2,792–6,980 pairs in 1990 (median 3,884) pairs, this being marginally lower than the median estimate of 4,000 pairs (range 3,000–5,000 pairs) used in the previous BirdLife analysis. The latter was derived by taking a present-day estimate of 2,000–5,000 pairs given by Dixon (2009), and raising the minimum by 1,000 pairs to account for trapping pressure (with perhaps 1,000 birds traded legally and at least another 1,000 birds illegally) and the effects of rodent poisoning. Moshkin (2010) arrives at his estimate by taking Dixon’s (2009) present-day estimate of 2,000–5,000 pairs and extrapolating retrospectively on the basis of a supposition that at least 30% of the population has declined by 32% over the past 20 years. This rate of decline is apparently the trend for the populations in the Altai-Sayan region of Russia nearest the border with Mongolia. Moshkin does not give a source for this, but may have derived it from declines during 2003–2008 of 15% and 17% in the Altai and Tyva republics respectively published by Karyakin and Nikolenko (2008). The assumption that at least 30% of the Mongolian population has declined by this rate is based on the premise that the declines in the neighbouring areas of the Altai-Sayan region (Karyakin and Nikolenko 2008) are indicative of a decline overall in north-western Mongolia. Moshkin’s (2010) estimates for Mongolia have little bearing on the overall trend estimate and are integrated into the revised analysis on the basis that they are refinements of the estimates previously used by BirdLife.

Global trend
The incorporation of these revisions based on Moshkin (2010) and Levin (2011) into the global trend calculation, utilising the same median estimates for other range states that were used in BirdLife’s 2010 analysis, results in an estimated decline of 54% (23–75%) over the past 19 years (see attached spreadsheet). This qualifies the species as Endangered. As in the 2010 analysis, this categorisation remains based on very uncertain data that can support a broad range of interpretations, and is thus inherently unstable and may be subject to revision once more robust data on population sizes and trends are available. Significant questions remain about the robustness and transparency of methodology applied by Moshkin (2010) and Levin (2011). However, the weight of evidence regarding ongoing threats and local population declines indicates that these new estimates should be used, for precautionary reasons and in the absence of any more reliable information, when calculating an estimate for the overall rate of decline. It is therefore proposed that the species be uplisted to Endangered under criteria A2b,c,d; A4b,c,d, albeit with caveats that more robust data on population sizes and trends remain needed.

Comments on this proposed category change and further relevant information would be welcomed, including insights into the likely rate of decline over the next three generations

References:

Dixon, A. (2007) Saker Falcon breeding population estimates. Part 1: Europe. Falco 29: 4-12.

Dixon, A. (2009) Saker Falcon breeding population estimates. Part 2: Asia. Falco 33: 4-10.

Galushin, V. (2004) Status of the Saker in Russia and eastern Europe. Falco 24: 3-8.

Haines, G. (2002) An assessment of the impact of trade on the Saker Falcon. Undergraduate (Part II) dissertation, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

Karyakin, I. V. (2008) Saker Falcon in Russia. Raptors Conservation 12: 28-47.

Karyakin, I. V. and Nikolenko, E. G. (2008) Monitoring results on the Saker Falcon population in the Altai-Sayan region in 2008, Russia. Raptors Conservation 14: 63-73.

Levin, A. S. (2000) Problems of Saker Falcon conservation in Kazakhstan. Falco 16: 8-9.

Levin, A. S. (2011) Illegal Trade and decrease in numbers of the Saker Falcon in Kazakhstan. Raptors Conservation 23: 64-73.

Levin, A. S. and Dixon, A. (2008) Long-term monitoring of breeding Saker Falcons in eastern Kazakhstan. Falco 32: 11-14. Li Yi-ming, Gao Zenxiang, Li Xinhai, Wang Sung and Niemelä, J. (2000) Illegal wildlife trade in the Himalayan region of China. Biodiversity & Conservation 9: 901-918.

Moshkin, A. V. (2010) Is there any scientific basis for decreasing the conservation status of the Saker Falcon? Raptors Conservation 19: 37-74.

Xinjiang Conservation Fund (2008) Summary Version of Report on Illegal Poaching and Trade of Saker Falcon in Xinjiang. Available at: http://www.greengrants.org.cn/file/pub/saker.pdf

Ye Xiaodi, Wan Ziming and Bai Yanxia (2001) The Saker Falcon in China is fighting for survival. Pp.80-94 in E. Potapov, S. Banzragch, N. Fox & N. Barton, eds. Saker Falcon in Mongolia: research and conservation (Proceedings of II International Conference on Saker Falcon and Houbara Bustard, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1–4 July 2000). Ulaanbaatar: Ministry of Nature and Environment.

Final trend calculation spreadsheet, 21 February 2012: Falco cherrug calculation of global rate of decline 21 Feb 12

Related posts:

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  2. Archived 2010-2011 topics: Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis): information requested.
  3. Archived 2010-2011 topics: Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga): information requested.
  4. Taita Falcon (Falco fasciinucha): request for information
  5. Archived 2010-2011 topics: Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps): uplist to Critically Endangered?
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19 Responses to Archived 2011-2012 topics: Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug): uplist to Endangered?

  1. In our country the Saker Falcon is very much endangered! It has been a quite common raptor in the past but nowadays we have only 1 breeding pair! Please uplist this species in the right position of ”Endangered”!!!

  2. Marton Attila says:

    If the estimates are correct, and the Saker Falcon population declined at least with 30% in the last 20 years, and it is believed that this trend will be an actuality for the Saker population in the next 20 or so years, then it’s unquestionable that IUCN should list the species as ENDANGERED. As sooner it gets a higher status, the easier it is to convince people (e.g. Government) that we need conservation projects for the species. As a top predator, it’s vulnerable to the smallest changes, and with the fast rate of habitat degradation, the Saker Falcon days are counted if we take the appropriate measures to late…

  3. Due to drastic population declines all over its homerange, I think it would be wise upgrading this species status on the IUCN list to Endangered.
    On a much smaller scale we could witness this species population decline, here in Romania too.
    I think an upgrade of this species status would be both the logical and useful thing to do.

  4. Even though I am young ornithologist, I could witness the Saker Falcon population decline in my home area, near the Black Sea coast, in the last 7 years. This seems to be the trend for Bulgaria too. With positive trends in countries like Ukraine and Hungary, I believe it is still not enough to sustain the species across it’s wide range territory.
    Having in mind that the general population trend is downwards, clearly visible from the worksheet of Saker Falcon calculation of global rate of decline, I strongly believe that this species should be uplisted to Endangered!

  5. The existing positive trend in some countries can not ensure safety of the Saker population in a wider scale, when in the other counties of the range there are negative factors, which elliminate more individuals than the number of the annual growth of the regional population. Especially when the threatening factors are not only the “usual suspects’ – habitat degradation, reduction of food sources, disturbance, etc. No species with Saker’s ecological position has chance to survive, if it is a subject of specialy targeted, permanent and all over persecution by professionals. Unfortunately, this is the case with the Saker. And unfortunately Bulgaria is a good example in this respect, having no confirmed breeding pair for the last 6 years. In spite of its proximity to the Saker’s healthy populations in Central Europe, proved visits of sattellite Sakers from Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine and in spite of the conservation efforts. Listing the Saker back to ENDANGERED will be not only an action towards the scientific truth, but also the way to ensure the species with the conservation measures it needs to survive.

  6. Andrew Dixon says:

    Comments on population assessments

    EUROPE: The population estimates for Europe should be revised upwards because in 2011 there were apparently closer to 400 pairs in the European Union countries rather than the 254 suggested in the table. Hungary alone held 234 breeding pairs in 2010. The population in Slovakia has apparently increased from about 7 bp in 1992 to about 27 bp in 2010 (from Fig 3 in Chavko – 2010 Slovak Raptor Journal 4 pp. 1-22). This is largely irrelevant in relation to the totals, but it does indicate that the fortunes of the Saker can be changed with good governance and conservation action.

    MONGOLIA: No account has been taken in this review of conservation management undertaken in Mongolia. In 2011, there were 200 pairs of Sakers breeding artificial nests in areas that were largely unoccupied previously. This number is likely to rise in 2012. There is no evidence of a declining population in central Mongolia. In fact the evidence points to a population increase in the region. Poisoning is not an issue in Mongolia. Much has been made of the well-publicized incident in 2002 – this was localised and has had no long-term impact on the Saker population. Electrocution is a problem in specific areas but the number and length of dangerous lines is very small compared to neighbouring countries. We know nothing of the Saker population trend in western Mongolia, though we do know it is still a common bird in western Mongolia. Studies in Mongolia point to a stable and/or increasing population of Sakers. The abundance and distribution range of their favoured prey (voles and gerbils is also increasing – especially in western and eastern Mongolia). There is no justification for stating the population is declining on the basis that is declining in neighbouring Russia and Kazakhstan. Moshkin simply assumes that western Mongolia held 30% of Mongolia Sakers and that this portion of the population declined by 32% over the period 1990 to 2010. Moshkin provides no evidence to support either of his claims –(i) that 30% of the Mongolia Saker population has declined over the period 1990-2010 and (ii) that the decline amounted to 32% of the population. What if I say Central Mongolia holds 30% of the population and this has increased by 32%! Is this as valid as Moshkin’s equal & opposite claim for western Mongolia or am I being facetious?

    I recommend retaining estimates of 3,500 bp for 1990 and 2010 from previous assessment.

    CHINA: Moshkin (2010) in his review of the Chinese Saker population did not take into account my comments on the population estimates during the 2010 IUCN assessment. Everything I said last year still stands and I shall repeat them here.
    Ye et al. (2001) provided a population estimate of 64,000 to 102,000 individuals based on a range of estimates for various regions of China. These included an estimate of 30,000-50,000 individuals in Xinjiang from Ministry of Forestry Surveys in 1985-86 and subsequently reported by Ma (1999). In my discussions with Ma Ming about this data I was informed that this estimate was not based on any field survey and was simply a guess made by somebody in the offices of the Ministry of Forestry based on all birds of prey. The estimate is meaningless but this figure was committed to record 13-years after the event by Ma Ming (apparently in the Newsletter of the China Ornithological Society, though I have never seen this article). It should not form the basis of any serious population estimate. Further estimates were produced for Qinghai of 10,000 to 20,000 individuals based on Ministry of Forestry Surveys and published information by Zheng (1983), Ye (1990; 1993) and supposedly on the fieldwork reported in Ye et al. (2001), even though they didn’t visit Qinghai. The referencing for this estimate is not clear but it presumably relates to Wang & Ye (1990a; b). Zheng (1983) presumably only refers to Tibet. I have not seen these Chinese publications but those of Wang & Ye were based on general ornithological observations undertaken during surveys of ungulates and not targeted at Saker Falcons. An English language summary of these Sino-American Surveys states that “Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) were seen frequently, and were known to nest in at least 2 locations” (Harris et al., undated). Comparison is made with the published results of Wang & Ye (from the same surveys) and Saker Falcons are not mentioned at all. Peregrine Falcons do not nest on the Qinghai plateau and the records presumably relate to misidentified Saker Falcons. The estimates of 10,000 to 20,000 individuals of Sakers in Qinghai are simply guesses based on very limited survey data.
    If we continue with examining the basis of the Ye et al (2001) estimate of 64,000 to 102,000 individuals we find that a further 8,000 to 10,000 birds are found in Gansu (based on the pers. com. of Gao, Ministry of Forestry). Ye et al (2001) then go on to provide more estimates for Tibet (Xixang) in 1985-86 of 6,000 to 8,000 birds (based on Ye own estimate), Inner Mongolia in 1999 of 5,000 to 8,000 birds (based on Wu own estimate) and Heilonsjiag [Heilongjiang] of 5,000 to 6,000 birds (based on Ye own estimate). My own subsequent enquiries discovered that none of these estimates were based on surveys or even visits to the areas concerned and were simply guesses. Furthermore, I have been informed that by at least 2001, Ye Xiaodi had never seen a Saker Falcon in China and was not able to distinguish the species from a Kestrel or other raptors. His survey results from Xinjiang in 2001 included pictures of an active Black Kite nest and several old Long-legged Buzzard nests that were incorrectly identified as Saker Falcon nests. The results of this survey were published in Falco (Ye & Ma, 2002) but in 2005 Ma Ming informed me that no Saker Falcon nests were found during this survey and that he did not participate in the reported survey. It is wholly unreliable.
    Even the relative proportions of Sakers in the estimate given by Ye et al (2001) do not fit with the known Chinese distribution of the Saker. Ye et al (2001) assert that 48% of the Saker population occurred in Xinjiang, 26% in Qinghai/Tibet, 11% in Gansu, 8% in Inner Mongolia and 7% in Heilongjiang. The late 19th century and early 20th expeditions of Preshevalsky, Koslov, Carruthers, Henderson et al covered various parts of these regions yet only on the Tibetan plateau were significant numbers of Sakers recorded. It is bizarre to think that ca. 2,750 pairs of Sakers could have bred in the far eastern province of Heilongjiang. Sakers were regarded as scarce in southern Xinjiang by Henderson, whilst Carruthers did not mention them in his travels through Djungaria. They were clearly not abundant in the early 20th century. It is likely that in the past Sakers were most abundant in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau as they are nowadays. There is an abundant year-round food supply here, whilst the deserts of Djungaria are unlikely to have supported Sakers at a higher density than are currently found in the Mongolian Gobi to the east (Sakers breed at fairly low density in both areas where prey availability is ephemeral).
    Whilst I do not doubt the potential for decline in Chinese areas outside Qinghai/Tibet, the population has probably always been relatively small in these areas in comparison to the population on the Tibetan plateau. What proportion of the Chinese population bred in Qinghai/Tibet in 1990 is not known. Today I estimate that 50-80% of Chinese Sakers breed here (about 2,500 bp). Strict travel restrictions and a strong military and police presence on the plateau have meant that this area has received comparably little attention from falcon trappers compared to neighbouring provinces. If we assume at least 50% of the Chinese population bred there in the past then an estimate of 5000 bp for the whole of China in 1990 is reached. This estimate is based on a conservative population estimate for the main population centre on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and an appraisal of the relative abundance outside this area.
    Based in my own surveys in Xinjiang and Qinghai (which are very limited given the huge size of these areas) I have stated that the whole Chinese population is likely to be between 3000 and 5000 pairs. I recognize the limitations of my own estimate. Baumgart never visited China to study Sakers and his estimate of 10,000 to 15,000 pairs is based on a high density estimate for the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. A breeding density of 4-6 bp/1000 km2 would give an estimate of 10,000-15,000 bp for the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. My estimate for this region is much more conservative (1 bp/1000 km2). Baumgart’s earlier estimate is partly based on work undertaken during the Nazi era in Tibet by Schäfer (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1938-1939_German_Expedition_to_Tibet), whilst he also cites Vaurie (1972) who didn’t provide population estimates but listed records in the Northern, Outer and Southeastern plateau. None of Baumgart’s referred sources had data that would allow him to determine if there was 1, 4 or 6 bp/1000 km2. There is still a large Saker breeding and wintering population on the plateau, which has probably remained largely unaffected by human activity until recently, but now Chinese policy to control rodents and herding practices together with the development of hydroelectric schemes and human settlements with electricity power infrastructure has the potential to impact the population.
    In conclusion, I would say that current estimates are conservative and based on limited data, whilst the data to accurately estimate the earlier population in the 1990s simply does not exist. However, I seriously doubt that the population of the Tibetan plateau has halved in the last 20 years (or since the early 20th Century) as virtually all suitable nesting areas on the plateau (i.e. mountain ridges and river valleys) are still occupied by good numbers of Sakers and it is unlikely that in the past there were double the number of Sakers breeding in these areas or on the flatter parts of the plateau. Absence of evidence for a population decline does not mean that a decline hasn’t occurred but existing evidence does not point to a 50% reduction in the population over the last 20 years.
    In relation to trapping pressure, the information in Li et al (2000) was addressed in a review of Saker Falcon Trade and Smuggling in China by Ma & Chen (2007). The Xinjiang Conservation Fund report of (2008) is Ma Ming’s report. His evaluation of the Saker population is based on exactly the same survey data that I have available to me, as all Ma Ming’s Saker surveys up to 2007 were part of our joint-programme. I have no idea how this estimate was derived (but it does not relate to the whole range of the Saker in China – only Xinjiang, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia).

    I recommend retaining the estimate from previous assessment of 5000 in 1990 and 3000-5000 in 2008. An alternative compromise would be to use a figure of 1000-5000 for 2008 to cover the extremes of the current estimates, with a median of 3000 bp.

    Comments on process of IUCN assessment

    Moshkin (2010) has clearly stated his reasons for wanting an EN listing for the saker. He states that “if the Saker status had become officially recognized as Endangered, this could have led to an official ban imposed on trading in the birds” and states that if the Saker is identified as Endangered, it will be “only too reasonable to discuss if the Saker must be included in Appendices I to the Bonn Convention and CITES”. Moshkin wants a trade ban on Sakers – like the one that exists for Gyrfalcons and Peregrines. He doesn’t make any exception for conservation projects based on sustainable trade. In Kazakhstan and Russia trade in Sakers is illegal – it cannot be made more illegal. In his world view the only hope for the Saker is that “falconry will eventually become outdated or that the countries of the Middle East will run out of oil”.

    In the same issue of Raptors Conservation, Belyalov (2010) wrote “In this connection the decision of the IUCN of 2010 to change the category of Saker Falcons from endangered (EN) to vulnerable
    (VU) is really shocking, as it should testify to the improvement of the situation and the growth of their number”. This is not true and shows a misunderstanding of the assessment criteria. The IUCN listing reflects the risk of global extinction. Furthermore, we are talking about global declines – not Kazakhstan declines. The declines in Kazakhstan and Russia are clearly higher than in Mongolia, where the population may even be increasing. In China we know little about population trends or even breeding distribution, but a large breeding population still exists on the Tibetan Plateau.

    Why should anybody care whether or not the Saker is listed as EN or VU? Why argue about it, if it doesn’t do any harm to list the Saker as EN? As Moshkin (2010) pointed out EN status could be used as further justification for a CITES trade ban (via Appendix 1 listing). This would prevent regulated, legal trade but not prevent unregulated illegal trade (which already occurs with Gyrfalcons and Sakers). I believe CITES App 1 listing would have no conservation benefit and would have a negative effect by making it difficult to implement conservation initiatives based on sustainable use (such as the Mongolian Artificial Nest Project). I concede that EN status may confer some benefit for Sakers by opening access to funding (e.g., in the EU) or by making governments take conservation of the species more seriously (perhaps this may the case in Russia and Kazakhstan…but I doubt it!). In a related forum for the Eastern Imperial Eagle Matyas Prommer (of MME, Hungary who initiated this review for the Saker) has suggested that higher IUCN listing could be used a lever to get conservation funds in these economically harsh times and this should be part of the process in deciding the IUCN status of a species. I disagree with this. I believe for BirdLife to maintain credibility as the IUCN listing authority all such political considerations should be removed from the process.

    If EN status for the Saker is imposed for reasons other than population status and trend (i.e., outside of the normal assessment criteria), it will make co-operation with between various stakeholders involved in Saker conservation and Saker use more difficult. By stakeholders I include the governments of range states and their various agencies, conservation NGO’s, falcon trappers and falconers. I believe Saker conservation is best tackled by addressing the concerns of all these stakeholders. It should be noted that there is a CMS Saker Task Force being established to examine various approaches to Saker conservation. The first meeting is on 29 March.

  7. Andrew Dixon says:

    This is a joint comment from Dr. Andrew Dixon (Head of Research, International Wildlife Consultants) and Dr. Anatoliy Levin (Senior Researcher, Institute of Zoology, Kazakhstan).

    International Wildlife Consultants, on behalf of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi has funded and collaborated with Dr. Levin and others in undertaking Saker surveys in Kazakhstan since 1993. We believe the Kazakhstan Saker population in the earlier period (pre 1990) was larger than has been recorded and the species was formerly widespread and abundant (>5000 pairs). Since that time the Saker decline has been large and rapid, such that the species is now rare or absent in many places where it was once common. The estimates of population size, both for the present time period and earlier time period have many inherent weaknesses but do provide evidence of a significant of decline.
    The break-up of the Soviet Union resulted in massive social, economic and environmental changes across Central Asia. The rapid decline of the Saker in Kazakhstan coincided with independence and various causes have been attributed to this. These include (i) the arrival of Arabian falcon trappers to a previously closed region, (ii) a lack of law enforcement and income for locals which encouraged participation in falcon trapping and (iii) loss of grazing pasture resulting in vegetation succession and a decline in prey availability. The significance of these causes differ across Kazakhstan and over time – for example it is believed trapping has affected Sakers in southern Kazakhstan from the early 1990s but western Kazakhstan only from the mid 2000s; habitat change has primarily affected Sakers in grass steppe rather desert steppe regions where the diet of Sakers is different (gerbils not sousliks). Since the early 1990s the country still remains open to foreigners and improved infrastructure has meant that more remote areas are now accessible. Economic conditions have improved but rural poverty is still widespread and the incentive for locals to participate in falcon trapping still exists. The initial rapid decline in habitat and prey availability has slowed since the early 1990s. In addition, as the economy of Kazakhstan has stabilized and improved, there has been a growth in the mineral extraction industries and associated electricity infrastructure in remote desert areas. This has resulted in increased risks of electrocution for Sakers and better access to formerly inaccessible areas for trappers.
    Since independence, there has been little done to improve conditions for Saker conservation from the government of Kazakhstan. This is caused by a combination of lack of awareness at high levels, low priority for conservation in relation to other needs in the country, poor organization of governmental conservation/environmental institutions and a shortage of skilled staff to direct and undertake conservation work. Furthermore, corruption is still an issue. Domestic legislation that relates to Saker conservation is weak and largely unenforced, though the Saker is fully protected by Kazakhstan law.
    We believe the Saker population has declined in all regions of Kazakhstan. We have population trend data of varying quality for western, eastern, southern and central Kazakhstan. In 2012 we shall collect survey data from northern Kazakhstan to compare with earlier surveys.
    The trend data for a population in southern Kazakhstan is available for the period 1994-2009 (see fig 2 in Levin 2011). In 1994 it was evident that the population had already declined significantly from levels before 1992. In 1994 this population consisted of 14 pairs, which had dropped to just 3 pairs by 1997 and since then only 2-3 pairs have bred annually in the region. The temporal pattern shown by the study population in southern Kazakhstan is of a rapid decline to the mid 1990’s with a much smaller breeding population since. For our southern Kazakhstan study population the 3-generation decline using same criteria as BirdLife is 92% reduction. It should be noted that the assumption that decline rates are constant are not borne out in this population (though it has little effect on the final result).
    The trend data for a population in eastern Kazakhstan is available for the period 2000-2008 (see fig 4 in Levin 2011). Here the population declined at a fairly constant rate from an estimate 65 pairs in 2000 to 22 in 2008 (Levin & Dixon, 2008). For our eastern Kazakhstan study population the 3-generation decline = 75-93% reduction. Lower estimate assumes the population in 2000 was same as in 1992, whilst higher estimate assumes a constant rate of decline from 1992-2000.
    Survey data obtained for power lines in central Kazakhstan can be divided into two 3-year periods: Early (2004-06) and Late (2009-11). The average breeding density on 7 different power lines (818 km) in the Early period was 5.1 pairs of Sakers per 100 km, whilst the average breeding density on 12 power lines (939 km) in the Late period was 4.1 pairs of Sakers per 100 km. There was no significant difference in breeding density between the two periods. For the Late period estimated min and max densities were 3.3 and 5.0 bp/100 km respectively. Using the median values we produced a population estimate for the survey area in 2005 and 2010 of 61 & 49 pairs respectively. For our central Kazakhstan study population the 3-generation decline = 22-57% reduction. Lower estimate assumes population in 2005 was same as 1992, whilst higher estimates assumes a constant rate of decline from 1992-2005.
    In 2010 we checked 36 Saker territories that were previously occupied in western Kazakhstan in 2004. Only 6 were occupied. In 2004 Sakers were breeding at extremely high density and it is unlikely that they could have breed in higher numbers in the region in 1992. If we assume the population in 1992 was the same as 2004, our calculated rate of decline for western Kazakhstan is an 85% reduction, with the decline only occurring since the mid 2000’s.
    Overall, from four of five regions of Kazakhstan our study populations indicate an average 3-generation decline rate of 69-82%. The mid-point of these estimates is 76%, which would be equivalent to a 2011 population of 1,100 pairs (range 800 – 1450 bp) if we maintain the 1990 population estimate of 5218 pairs.
    How many Saker currently exist in Kazakhstan is a matter of debate. Levin (2011) produced a revised population estimate for the whole of Kazakhstan of 980 pairs, with a revised estimate of 100 pairs for the Central region of Kazakhstan (roughly equating to Karagandy Province – an area of ca. 500,000km2 – or about 5x the area of Hungary; see Fig 6 in Levin 2011). In this region, from 2011, we have density estimates of 3.3 to 5.0 Sakers per 100 km on power lines (mean 4.1). The survey area comprised 13 lines covering 1191 km to the west and south of Lake Balkash (see Fig 3 in Levin 2011). The survey data gives an estimate of 49 pairs (range 39-60 pairs) on these lines alone.
    These 13 lines represent only a proportion of the power line network in central Kazakhstan. The exact proportion is not known. But the lines surveyed are encompassed within an area of ca. 25000 km2. Not all the power lines within this area were surveyed. So, we have undertaken an incomplete survey of power lines in about 5% of the area of Central Kazakhstan. If, making a purely arbitrary guess, we surveyed about 10% of the total power line infrastructure we can multiply the estimate by x10 just to give us a clue as to how many sakers might possibly nest on power lines in Central Kazakhstan – 490 (390-600). This is a crude estimate as Sakers are not evenly distributed across central Kazakhstan – in fact they are found mainly in the Lake Balkash and eastern Betpakdala area. So perhaps, we actually surveyed 50% of the power lines in the most suitable breeding areas of central Kazakhstan, giving a population estimate of 98 (range 78-120 pairs). Sakers also nest in ‘natural sites’ in Central Kazakhstan. We are not saying this is a good estimate but it illustrates a point that estimates can vary massively depending on simple unknown factors. We believe that trend data is more reliable than fiddling with past and present estimates derived from “look-see” surveys and GIS extrapolations without any underlying statistical methodology.
    The breeding population of Sakers in Kazakhstan is declining. Data from 2010 (western Kaz) and 2011 (central Kaz) adds to previous monitoring data available from southern & eastern Kaz. This new data was not available in the previous 2010 IUCN assessment.

  8. The note on Andrew Dixon’s comments on ‘The global status of the Saker
    Falcon in 2010’ prepared by Nigel Collar March 2010

    Nigel Collar really has produced an extremely useful distillation of the data on Saker populations and made a revision of the past and/or present population estimates for the main Asian range states. We discussed with Andrew Dixon all his comments on “The global status of the Saker Falcon in 2010” prepared by Nigel Collar March 2010 concerning Kazakhstan. I agree with all positions of that paper, excluding assessment of Saker Falcon population in central Kazakhstan. Andrew Dixon says that there is no data “for the Central region of Kazakhstan (roughly equating to Karagandy Province – an area of ca. 500,000km2 – or about 5x the area of Hungary). So, we have undertaken an incomplete survey of power lines in about 5% of the area of Central Kazakhstan. If, making a purely arbitrary guess, we surveyed about 10% of the total power line infrastructure we can multiply the estimate by x10 just to give us a clue as to how many sakers might possibly nest on power lines in Central Kazakhstan – 490 (390-600)” We have all need data to understand real situation with Saker Falcon in that region. Andrew Dixon do not take into the account that besides the program “Saker Falcon in Central Asia” there are the state programs in the frame of which Saker Falcon and other birds of pray was searched and calculated in Kazakhstan. Many zoologists of Kazakhstan work every year to the field in Karaganda destrict and search the birds. There are several nature reserves and national parks in that area. We arranged the data base with fool information about Saker Falcon nests and used all accessible sources to fulfil it. We can say now exactly that there are in central Kazakhstan some places where there is no Saker Falcon or density of the nest paltry. Andrew was in central part of steppe zone (Astana region) recently where we could find only the nests of Kestrel and Red-footed Falcon. Karaganda region was searched since early 80th of last century. We crossed that area many times but in 1999, 2004 and in 2009 we tried to calculate the Saker Falcon specially. We have searched all big power lines in Karaganda district. The members of joint Kazakh-Russian expedition could find only one Saker Falcon nest on the power line in central part of Karaganda district between Karaganda and Jeskasgan. We established that the northern part of Betpak-Dala desert on the territory of this district devastated and only two nests of Saker Falcon were found on triangular poles in central part of this desert in 2009. We registered this falcon in Karaganda district in autumn 2004 but it could be migrated falcons from Russia.
    So, analysing real situation, taking into account that the most of the territory of Karaganda district devastated, the Saker Falcon was preserved only on military territory, bearing in mind that there is a stable tendency to Saker Falcon’s decline in Kazakhstan and using a criteria of BirdLife International we have to state that Saker Falcon must be uplisted to “endangered”..

    Anatoliy Levin, senior researcher of the Institute of Zoology, Almaty, Kazakhstan

  9. Having been involved in studying and conserving Saker Falcon populations throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and being aware of the situation of the species in the Asian range (through receiving first-hand information from colleagues working there), I can sadly confirm the necessity for uplisting the species to the ‘Endangered’category.
    Apparently, apart from Central Europe and Ukraine, Sakers are vanishing across their range. While there is a slightly increasing population in Central Europe (but not more than 400 pairs in total) and a stable population in Ukraine (315-345 pairs), the key populations (in Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China) giving the core populations of the species are rapidly declining:
    - no breeding pairs have been found in European Russia since 2004 (despite the annual survey efforts);
    - number of pairs are continuously decreasing in various regions of Kazakhstan and the latest data published in a peer-reviewed journal (see above in the country report) are really frightening;
    - in Asian Russia along the Mongolian border the number of pairs are decreasing and members of pairs have been observed to change unnaturally frequently, likely due to illegal trapping;
    - guides leading bird watching tours in China report noticeably decreasing Sakers in Tibet and Quinghai in the last 10-15 years;
    - in addition, there are simply none or very little information from many Central Asian countries, as for Sakers.
    Only the Mongolian population seems to be stable at the moment. The decline is not ‘out of the blue’: disappearing and deteriorating habitats due to infrastructure development, agriculture and/or climate change; disappearing prey items, poisoning, electrocution, shooting, and – last but not least – trapping are all long proven and yet still threatening factors on Sakers.
    Positive developments in the population status in Central Europe and the artificial nest project in Mongolia are simply not enough to compensate the loss on the other end. In addition, negative factors are present in Europe as well (as regularly robbed nests, poisoned, electrocuted and shot Sakers prove), so if conditions change and conservation efforts weaken, even the positive trend can turn to negative easily.
    Much more efforts are needed especially from governments to improve the status of the species; uplisting Saker to EN category can be the second warning signal to them (after the international Convention on Migratory Species or Bonn Convention uplisted Saker to Appendix I, which is a higher conservation status) that the problem of Saker Falcon is far from being solved.
    Hungarian Saker conservation experts fully support the uplisting of the species and ready to share their more than 30-year experience in the species’ conservation management in order to make possible to downlist the species to the ‘Least Concern’ category in the future.

  10. Mátyás Prommer says:

    First of all, I would like to reply a personal comment of Andrew Dixon. He suggests: “In a related forum for the Eastern Imperial Eagle Matyas Prommer (of MME, Hungary who initiated this review for the Saker) has suggested that higher IUCN listing could be used a lever to get conservation funds in these economically harsh times and this should be part of the process in deciding the IUCN status of a species.” It is a simply not the case; it is a misunderstanding (or at least I do hope that it is not an intentional misinterpretaion of my words). Probably it is my mistake, as I am not a native speaker. I just wanted to point out that in these economically difficult times, the demand for profit by companies and states may lead to a higher level of threats as they care less about for environment and more willing to exploit natural resources: mines, lands, forests – destroying the habitats of the Saker Falcon and other raptors; and maybe the species themselves. On the other hand, the conservation side that could counterbalance that trend will have less possibilities to prevent the destruction of nature. I have never meant to say that Saker should be uplisted to EN to raise more fund for BirdLife. I do hope that Andrew Dixon has simply misunderstood my non-native English. (Besides, I wonder why he suggests that personally I have initiated this review? Not that it is an important question.)

    Andrew Dixon writes:
    “We know nothing of the Saker population trend in western Mongolia, though we do know it is still a common bird in western Mongolia.” It is not an exact figure that could be used for a population estimation. Besides, as population dynamics models (and known cases) showed, common birds can become uncommon very rapidly. If breeding pairs start to disappear, it means that the decrease of population has already passed the critical level and ‘floaters’ (extra, yet non-breeding adults in the population that can replace perishing breeding adults in the pairs) are already not present. Not knowing the trend, it is difficult to say anything of the status of a population. I wonder how it is possible to say that there is no problem with the Western Mongolian population not knowing the trends there, but knowing that the population is in trouble in the neighbouring Russian and Kazakh areas? I think it is difficult to state firmly anything. But knowing the situation around precautionary principle should be applied.
    Andrew Dixon: “In China we know little about population trends or even breeding distribution, but a large breeding population still exists on the Tibetan Plateau.” Those written above is valid here too. In addition, as I wrote earlier, guide (for bird watchers) working in China in Quinghai region, but also on the Tibetan Plateau in the last 15 years, reported a continuous decline in the number of observed Sakers there during this time.
    Unfortunately, later information (and some other information I have received on the population through personal communication) is not published – not even in articles in any non peer-reviewed journal; unlike the data that Birdlife refers to in the introduction, which were published in the Russian peer-reviewed journal.
    I also would like to add that the Conference of Parties of CMS has already understood the problem and it is not coincidence that the species has been uplisted to Appendix I. The decision was made after a week of discussion and in the end the decision received the support of the governments of some affected Central Asian countries (beside many other countries). It is very good that decision was made not only about the uplisting, but also about establishing the Saker Falcon Task Force to start to prepare and implement practical conservation measures.

  11. Attila Nagy says:

    Andrew Dixon said on February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm: “EUROPE: The population estimates for Europe should be revised upwards because in 2011 there were apparently closer to 400 pairs in the European Union countries rather than the 254 suggested in the table.”
    This is a quite good example of wrong interpretation of data. Even when it’s about the population of the EU, maybe the best known Saker population of all, these kinds of misinterpretations rise. In Romania, despite the efforts done within the on-going LIFE project, last year we knew only one breeding pair, coming from near the border with Hungary (guess why…), as no active breeding pair was found in the Mountains of Dobrudja, near the Black Sea. All 3 known breeding pairs of Dobrudja are gone. I agree with Mr. Dixon saying that “the fortunes of the Saker can be changed with good governance and conservation action”, but this is the point. It’s obvious, that the Saker is highly conservation dependent at the moment; we can’t manage the global population through local level actions. It’s a start and this is how we gain information and experience for dealing with conservation issues, but our overall goal is to ensure its status at global level, and all our strength should be used likely.
    Andrew Dixon said on February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm: “MONGOLIA: … We know nothing of the Saker population trend in western Mongolia, though we do know it is still a common bird in western Mongolia.”
    Come on, it’s not a scientific approach. The species is more widespread, the trend is more difficult to tell based just on some impressions. However, you urge the need of evidences in your next sentence: Andrew Dixon said on February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm: “Moshkin provides no evidence to support either of his claims”.
    Andrew Dixon said on February 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm: “As Moshkin (2010) pointed out EN status could be used as further justification for a CITES trade ban (via Appendix 1 listing). This would prevent regulated, legal trade but not prevent unregulated illegal trade (which already occurs with Gyrfalcons and Sakers).”
    How on Earth could you be so sure, that legal trade is manageable? It’s quite the same situation like the one of the Brown Bears in Romania. Theoretically, it’s a protected species in our country; however, legal hunting is permitted on it. First of all, those with interests in hunting bears are scandalously overestimating the national population to obtain higher hunting permit rates (interesting, isn’t it?). Everyone is looking forward to get the benefits of the day of tomorrow, but nobody cares about the day after tomorrow… But, hey, legal management should stop poaching, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately not even near! Because of limitless demand, and the impossible to monitoring the illegal activities countrywide, it’s all the same. And let’s not forget about habitat loss and fragmentation…
    My opinion is that, if ANY concern exists of wide level population decreasing trend, raise the conservation level, and urge relevant governments to do something about it! Do not, I mean EVER, play with the status of such a “problematic” species. Plan for the worst, hope for the best!

  12. I would like to confirm that it has not been by chance that CMS discussed in detail the conservation status of the Saker Falcon at COP9 in Roma and, as already correctly mentioned by Matyas Prommer, during a series of dedicated meetings of an ad hoc working group during COP10 last November in Bergen. The fact that COP10 decided to list the Saker Falcon in App. 1 of CMS has only to do with the prevailing concern for the conservation status of the species and the need to act in order to improve this conservation status. I also would like to remind that COP9 had decided to have intersessional activities aimed to improve the knowledge of the conservation status of the species, and the results of these activities have been duly and carefully considered by COP10 before deciding to list the Saker Falcon in Appendix 1. From this respect, the positive example of Mongolia has led to the decision to exclude birds in Mongolia from App. 1 listing. Lastly, I would like to recall the precautionary principle which is applied by several international legal conservation instruments in case of possible data deficiency. I’m sure the Saker Task Force which will soon start its activities will be the ideal forum to improve our knowledge on the status of the Saker Falcon and join forces in the field for the shared commitment for its conservation.

  13. Mátyás Prommer says:

    I would like to comment on some of Andrew Dixon’s thoughts posted above.
    As for critizing the data assessment and articles on the Chinese population, it is very difficult to do anything with sentences like ‘I haven’t seen these Chinese publications, but..’ In addition, unfortunately, there are many simple statements without references (that could be considered for further evaluation to the Saker’s conservation status); unlike the Birdlife’s introduction, which is based on the best available (and published) data at the moment.
    While being aware the importance of solid data (especially numbers) for the conservation status assessment; in my opinion, doing all kind of calculations with very old numbers just to prove that the species should not be uplisted in the EN category, will actually not help the declining populations.
    Andrew Dixon takes the recent estimation of 2500 pairs in the Tibetan plateau as 50% of the population in 1990, ending to 5000 pairs in 1990. As I mentioned already before a significant decline has been observed in the last 15 years exactly in the Qinghai-Tibetan region, which means that for 1990 not the recent estimation, but a higher number should be considered as a base, resulting in a higher number for all China. Just like Andrew Dixon, I cannot support my statement with published data either, but on the request of Birdlife (and with the agreement of the person in question) I can provide the contact details of the local bird expert, who has been leading guided tours for bird watchers in Tibet and Qinghai areas for the last 15 or so years (almost annually), and who shared his observations with me.
    Andrew Dixon mentions that “now Chinese policy to control rodents and herding practices together with the development of hydroelectric schemes and human settlements with electricity power infrastructure has the potential to impact the population” that – along with the population data – also points to the necessity of the application of the precautionary principle.
    Andrew Dixon states that “Absence of evidence for a population decline does not mean that a decline hasn’t occurred but existing evidence does not point to a 50% reduction in the population over the last 20 years.” However, as the former population was likely higher than Andrew Dixon suggested (see above), an 50% decline in the area in question cannot be excluded.
    An alternative estimate for China with 1000-5000 pairs suggested by Andrew Dixon sounds reasonable and acceptable, but only in case of considering the lower value for IUCN conservation status assessment, in line with the precautionary principle.
    Andrew Dixon says: “The IUCN listing reflects the risk of global extinction. Furthermore, we are talking about global declines – not Kazakhstan declines. The declines in Kazakhstan and Russia are clearly higher than in Mongolia, where the population may even be increasing.” I agree, we are not talking about Kazakhstan, but I must note that we are not talking about Mongolia either. It is only Mongolia, where Saker population may be increasing, everywhere else in the core breeding area, Saker populations are provably, or very likely declining. Should we not act just because in one country the population ‘may’ even be increasing? (I am not counting the slightly but certainly increasing Central and Eastern European populations as they are negligible compared to the Asian core populations.)
    For Kazakhstan I do not want to add anything, as Professor Levin has already written down the most important information.
    Dixon argues that listing Saker as EN could influence CITES bans. I do not understand his concerns, as Mongolia is excluded from both in CMS and CITES bans on Sakers and thus for Mongolia it is possible to trade certain ‘Saker quota’ legally. Uplisting Saker will not affect that bans at all. In other countries, as Andrew Dixon writes himself, Sakers cannot be protected more legally, thus trade is not possible whether or not the Saker is in the EN (or VU) category. So, why bother listing the species in EN? Again: it will not affect the Mongolian Saker trade – and thus the ‘sustainable harvest’ project either. (And I must raise the question: when a species is declining so rapidly, is the possibility for trade in a given country the most important thing to worry about?)
    I also would like to add here that the EU has its own priority categories (providing higher co-financing rate for priority species and habitats in past EU supported projects), which is only partly depending on IUCN conservation status assessments. A good example: despite the downlisting of the Saker to VU category earlier, the species remained in the higher conservation status in the EU. It should be noted too, that there is only one EU programme that explicitly supports nature conservation, so we are not talking about large financial tools. Yet another (very new) information: according to the new proposal for financial tools to support nature conservation, priority species and habitats will not receive higher EU co-financing rate in the future. All in all, listing Saker as EN, will not provide more funding possibilities, as Andrew Dixon tries to suggest.
    So why is it necessary to list Saker as EN (apart from the fact the data published in peer-reviewed journals strongly suggest to do so, in line with IUCN criteria)? It is a strong signal to governments, and organisations, as well as people that the problem is bigger than they have thought, and it is time to act. It is the highest time to prepare conservation plans and start to implement them. It signals that the level of responsibility is increasing.
    Andrew Dixon says: ‘If EN status for the Saker is imposed for reasons other than population status and trend (i.e. outside of the normal assessment criteria), it will make co-operation with between various stakeholders involved in Saker conservation and Saker use more difficult.’ Luckily, the proposal to impose the EN status for Saker is based on the latest ‘best available data’ on population status and trends published in peer-reviewed journals, thus there is no threat posed on the co-operation between stakeholders.
    I fully agree with Andrew Dixon that Saker conservation is best tackled by addressing the concerns of all the stakeholders – and the first step for that is to make them understand how big the problem is. The recent listing procedure is part of that process.
    I would like to repeat: I would be happy if the species was in such a good situation that it could be downlisted to IUCN’s ‘Least Concern’ category.

  14. I think everybody understands the real situation in this dispute. And unfortunately, it is not a dispute where all are scientists, trying to come closer to the objective truth, as when searching for the truth you do not missinterprete facts and words. The reason for this is very simple. Scientific dispute would exclude considerations, called ‘trade’ and ‘use’ (although with the sympatric label ‘sustainable’). Using such considerations, as well as interests of such stakeholders, as ‘…falcon trappers…’, the dispute recalles a bargain, isn’t? Let’s think about the Saker future…

  15. Mátyás Prommer says:

    Hereby I post an important comment from Igor Karyakin, a Russian raptor expert, that he sent to me to share:

    “Andrew Dixon wrote that the Saker Falcon is a common species in Western Mongolia. However, it is not so. In 2010, I, Elvira Nikolenko, Eugene Potapov (he studied Sakers here in 2000-2002) visited the Western Mongolia, and our route across Mongolia was quite long. However Sakers were encountered with a frequency of 3 times less than in Russia. And the falcon was not surveyed absolutely in vast territories of the desert depressions of Western Mongolia. There were a lot of empty nests, which had been occupied by falcons earlier. Considering the decline in Saker population numbers in Russia along the Russian-Mongolian border, the statement that its population in Mongolia is stable or increasing is fiction. In the regions along the Mongolian border Saker disappears and its breeding habitats are occupied by the Peregrine Falcon. Even in the Chuya steppes, where Peregrine was never registered, and the Saker was a common species, now Peregrine Falcons but no Sakers, sitting on poles along the roads, are recorded regularly.
    Oleg Belyalov, Sergey Vazhov, Roman Bakhtin, Leonid Konovalov also visited Western Mongolia the last few years; and according to their data there were single instances of the Sakers observed, and in the most parts of Western Mongolia the numbers of observations were less than in Russia and Kazakhstan (reports about of some of them were published in Russian). Thus, there is a clear contradiction of our data on Western Mongolia with Andrew Dixon’s declarations.”

  16. Andrew Dixon says:

    In my posts I made an assessment of the Saker population in Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia.
    For Kazakhstan, Anatoliy Levin & I suggested the population has declined from 5218 to 1100 bp over 3-generations. This is not vastly different from the pre-existing estimate of a decline from 5218 to 980.
    For Mongolia I have suggested the population is stable. This contradicts the assessment made by Moshkin which states that (i) 30% of the Mongolian Saker population is found in western Mongolia and that (ii) this western Mongolian population has declined by 32%. Neither of the claims (i) and (ii) were backed by any data. In Central Mongolia there is no evidence of a population decline and it is likely that the population has increased in recent years. Igor Karyakin (per Matyas Prommer) provides information on a survey that he undertook in 2010 when driving to and from the ARRCN conference in Ulaanbaatar, in which he reports many abandoned ‘saker’ nests from previous years (?). He also states that other Russian researchers report that the Saker is even less common in western Mongolia than in the adjoining Russian regions. This new information directly contradicts the published report from the National Survey conducted across 18 provinces by 9 teams of Mongolian ornithologists in 2010. They found that Sakers were present in all 18 provinces and they found the most Sakers in the following 5 provinces:- Sukhbaatar (East), Zavkhan (West), Khovsgol (North), Uvs (West) and Tov (Central). Breeding Sakers were found to be most abundant in Zavkhan and Uvs provinces, both in western Mongolia. The Saker is a common breeding bird in central Mongolia. The relative numbers found in the 2010 Mongolian National Survey indicate that is also a common bird in western Mongolia. I am berated for stating that there is no evidence that Sakers have declined in Mongolia. I still stand by my claim, which is based on the data from the Mongolian National Survey of 2010 and from project work that I am involved with in central Mongolia.
    For China I have suggested that there are more than 1,000-1,500 bp in the country. I have suggested that the population could be as high as 5000 bp (my estimate was 3000-5000 bp). I based my assessment on the reported breeding range of the Saker (i.e., Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Xizang, N Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi) and extrapolation from conservative density estimates. I guessed that 50-80% of Chinese Sakers were found on the Tibetan plateau. This is the region of China where breeding Sakers are most abundant. I don’t think anybody disputes that. So I suggest that 1,500–2,500 pairs may breed on the Tibetan Plateau. The Tibetan plateau covers 2.5 million km2. So, 1,500 pairs would equal an average density of 0.06 pairs per 100 km2. The corresponding density for 2,500 pairs is 0.1 bp. I do not think an estimate of 1 pair every 1000 km2 is an unreasonable estimate for the current Saker population on the Tibetan Plateau. Matyas Prommer is wrong in his assertion that my estimate for the Tibetan Plateau population was simply 50% of the 1990 Chinese population. I suggest that the population on the plateau has not declined by 50% in the last 20 years because the species still breeds at high density in Qinghai. I also stated that the population is likely to be in decline, so this is in line with what has been reported by bird watching tour guides.
    So, in summary, the two main points of contention are (i) my claim of a stable Mongolian population (1990 = 3500 pairs) versus Moshkin’s claim of a declining population in western Mongolia (1990 = 3884 pairs) and (ii) my claim of a 2010 Chinese population of 3000-5000 bp versus Moshkin’s claim of 1000-2000 bp. I think there are no other points of debate in relation to population estimates?
    Matyas Prommer says BirdLife should only use the lower estimate of 1000 bp for China based on the precautionary principle. However, I believe the current approach of using median values is correct.
    At no point have I advocated placing the Saker in any particular IUCN category, whether it be VU or EN. I have presented data that differs in two respects to previous data in relation to Mongolia and China. I have presented arguments to back up my case. I believe the IUCN criteria should be derived from the data. The data is of very variable quality and this can be accounted for by using wide margins of error (e.g. 1000 to 5000 bp for China). If, after evaluating the data, the IUCN status is EN then that is fine. If it is VU then so be it. I am not saying “I think the Saker must be categorized as VU”. What I am saying is that this process must be transparent and based on the best available data and not muddied by advocates saying that the Saker must be EN so we can stop trade etc. I believe that BirdLife are indeed undertaking a transparent and open review based on population data from a wide range of sources.
    Matyas Prommer writes “Much more efforts are needed especially from governments to improve the status of the species; uplisting Saker to EN category can be the second warning signal to them (after the international Convention on Migratory Species or Bonn Convention uplisted Saker to Appendix I, which is a higher conservation status)”.
    To my mind this introduces an additional criterion to the assessment process. It asks BirdLife to take into account the effect EN listing would have on government attitudes to Saker conservation in its assessment process. This argument assumes that EN listing using this additional criterion could have no negative effect. I do not believe this is the case. I believe that it could result in disengagement with the IUCN process as it would not be seen to be objective.
    Matyas Prommer writes “Andrew Dixon has simply misunderstood my non-native English. (Besides, I wonder why he suggests that personally I have initiated this review? Not that it is an important question.)
    In the Imp Eagle forum Matyas said “…This shift of weight of aspects is leaving less and less room and funding for conservation efforts, which can easily turn back the positive developments in IE conservation in the last decades. Unfortunately, there are not many barriers to stop that economy-ruled ‘tide’. IUCN categories are one of them as they are clear signals about the ‘importance’ of a species that is well known, understood and accepted by most stakeholders (especially because they themselves are thinking in terms of priorities). This aspect of this debate should be considered as well”. I took this to mean “that higher IUCN listing could be used a lever to get conservation funds in these economically harsh times and this should be part of the process in deciding the IUCN status of a species.” Not sure what I have misunderstood here? I agree that as economic recession bites it is more likely that negative effects can occur for species and that funds to counteract this are less available. What I don’t agree with, is that this should be considered in the debate about IUCN status. Also, I did not state that Matyas personally initiated this IUCN review for the Saker, but that MME did.
    Matyas Prommer writes “that the Conference of Parties of CMS has already understood the problem and it is not coincidence that the species has been uplisted to Appendix I”. He is right it is not a coincidence. CMS Appendix 1 listed was prompted by Saker EN status. It was eventually accepted on the basis of a resolution from the Rome CoP that required the Saker to be categorized as Threatened under IUCN criteria. Now we are asked to take into account CMS App 1 status to revise IUCN status! Again, I do not think the legal status of the species in CMS or any other MEA should be a criterion for IUCN assessment.
    Attila Nagy wrote “ Andrew said that….in 2011 there were apparently closer to 400 pairs in the European Union countries rather than the 254 suggested in the table.”. This is a quite good example of wrong interpretation of data.
    I based this on a statement to me made by Matyas Prommer on the EULife Saker Forum on 22 July 2011, where he said “it seems that they [BirdLife] do not operate with the recent, up-to-date values. In fact, the number of pairs in your nest boxes is a little bit more than 50% of the EU population (considering the population in 2010-11)”. As there were 200 pairs in the Mongolian nest boxes I took this to mean that there were nearer 400 pairs in the EU.
    Attila please take up the misinterpretation of the data with Matyas.
    Attila Nagy wrote “How on Earth could you be so sure, that legal trade is manageable?”. Only one country has an export trade of its breeding Sakers. Mongolia. Our project there is to develop a sustainable conservation management system based on a harvest. So that is how we are working to make the legal trade manageable (see http://peregrinefund.org/subsites/conference-gyr/proceedings/315-Dixon.pdf )
    Illegal trade can only be managed by enforcement. Current enforcement in many countries inadequate (eg Russia, Kazakhstan). Can it be improved – yes, as was demonstrated in Turkey, but I do not believe that saker conservation is best served by this being the only strategic response to trade demand. I believe regulated legal trade has a role to play. I do not believe legal trade will stop poaching.
    Matyas Prommer said “in my opinion, doing all kind of calculations with very old numbers just to prove that the species should not be uplisted in the EN category, will actually not help the declining populations”. Just to make it clear, I am not trying to prove the Saker should not be uplisted. I have not said that it should not be uplisted. There are two numbers that we disagree upon – the 1990 population estimate for Mongolia and the 2010 estimate for China. Neither of which depend on me calculating anything from old estimates. My main concern is that many people on this forum are advocating EN status on the basis that it can be used influence other MEA’s (such as CITES) or government policies (such as in Kazakhstan). I think these considerations are inappropriate as the IUCN status should be objective.
    Matyas Prommer writes “Dixon argues that listing Saker as EN could influence CITES bans. I do not understand his concerns, as Mongolia is excluded from both in CMS and CITES bans on Sakers and thus for Mongolia it is possible to trade certain ‘Saker quota’ legally. Uplisting Saker will not affect that bans at all in other countries”.
    There is no trade ban on Sakers in CITES. The Saker is CITES App II. By making Saker CITES App I, there would effectively be a trade ban (same as Peregrine & Gyrfalcon). If this happened then the Artificial Nest Project in Mongolia would stop or Mongolia would apply for an exemption to continue trade. It would be up to the Mongolian government to decide what to do. This is what has happened with CMS. Trade is “banned” for CMS signatory states with an exemption for Mongolia. The argument used by Moshkin and others is that EN status would make it easier to push for a CITES trade ban (App I listing). They see EN status as tool to further this ambition. I do not think a CITES trade ban for the Saker is appropriate. I think managed trade is a better option for Saker conservation in Asia. Apart from Mongolia, there is a no legal CITES regulated trade – this absence of legal trade has not benefitted the Saker because enforcement is weak. A CITES ban will simply reinforce the current status quo – which is not working to save the Saker in Asia.
    Peter Iankov simply dives into personal abuse with “everybody understands the real situation in this dispute… it is not a dispute where all are scientists, trying to come closer to the objective truth, as when searching for the truth you do not missinterprete facts and words”.
    I have stated my reasons for disagreeing with Moshkin’s population estimates. I have provided the reasoning for my contention that the Mongolian population has not declined and why I believe the Chinese population is larger than 1000-2000 bp. I have not deliberately misinterpreted facts and words at all. I am accused of being a liar because I disagree with Moshkin’s population estimates for Mongolia and China!
    Peter Iankov goes on to say “Scientific dispute would exclude considerations, called ‘trade’ and ‘use’ (although with the sympatric label ‘sustainable’). Using such considerations, as well as interests of such stakeholders, as ‘…falcon trappers…’, the dispute recalles a bargain, isn’t? Let’s think about the Saker future”.
    I cannot believe that Peter really believes that sustainable use is unscientific or that issues relating to the use of resources have no place in science or conservation. From fisheries to forestry humans use wildlife resources. Like it or not (and Peter clearly doesn’t like it), Sakers are a wildlife resource used by humans. Sakers are a key species in Arab falconry, which is part of Arabic culture and is recognized as such by UNESCO. Falconry has been around for a lot longer than bird watching. Falconers are legitimate stakeholders in the debate of Saker conservation and use. Trade in Sakers has been around for as long as falconry. Trappers need to understand the issues facing Saker conservation. Like it or not they are stakeholders in this debate too. I suggest that a pragmatic approach involving all stakeholders is the best way forward for Saker conservation.
    There is a Saker Task Force meeting at the end of March and this kind of debate is probably best held there as it has little to do with getting the best population estimates to assess the IUCN status of Sakers.

  17. Andrew Dixon says:

    Matyas Prommer made the following statement on the BirdLife Globally Threatened Birds Forum:
    “While there is a slightly increasing population in Central Europe (but not more than 400 pairs in total) and a stable population in Ukraine (315-345 pairs), the key populations (in Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China) giving the core populations of the species are rapidly declining:
    I agree – apart from including Mongolia in the list of core range countries where Saker populations are rapidly declining.

    - no breeding pairs have been found in European Russia since 2004 (despite the annual survey efforts);
    I agree

    - number of pairs are continuously decreasing in various regions of Kazakhstan and the latest data published in a peer-reviewed journal (see above in the country report) are really frightening;
    I agree

    - in Asian Russia along the Mongolian border the number of pairs are decreasing and members of pairs have been observed to change unnaturally frequently, likely due to illegal trapping;
    I agree

    - guides leading bird watching tours in China report noticeably decreasing Sakers in Tibet and Quinghai in the last 10-15 years;
    I agree

    - in addition, there are simply none or very little information from many Central Asian countries, as for Sakers.
    I agree

    Only the Mongolian population seems to be stable at the moment.
    I agree
    The decline is not ‘out of the blue’: disappearing and deteriorating habitats due to infrastructure development, agriculture and/or climate change; disappearing prey items, poisoning, electrocution, shooting, and – last but not least – trapping are all long proven and yet still threatening factors on Sakers.
    I agree

    Positive developments in the population status in Central Europe and the artificial nest project in Mongolia are simply not enough to compensate the loss on the other end.
    I agree
    In addition, negative factors are present in Europe as well (as regularly robbed nests, poisoned, electrocuted and shot Sakers prove), so if conditions change and conservation efforts weaken, even the positive trend can turn to negative easily.
    I agree
    Much more efforts are needed especially from governments to improve the status of the species;
    I agree
    uplisting Saker to EN category can be the second warning signal to them (after the international Convention on Migratory Species or Bonn Convention uplisted Saker to Appendix I, which is a higher conservation status) that the problem of Saker Falcon is far from being solved.

    I agree with the caveat that this should not be a reason to give the Saker EN status.

    Maybe our difference lies in my opinion that we should consider EN status as being an objective assessment of population trends based on available knowledge, whereas Matyas also believes that the potential conservation benefits derived from EN status should be a consideration in this assessment process. Or maybe we have no disagreement here too?

    In 2010 the Saker was revised from EN to VU based on a change in Knowledge – “The change in category is the result of better knowledge, e.g. owing to new or newly synthesized information about the status of the taxon (e.g. better estimates for population size, range size or rate of decline).”

    In 2012 the proposed revision from VU to EN is also based on a change in Knowledge. This is based on data presented by Moshkin & Levin in 2011. The IUCN status depends on whether or not this new knowledge results in a rate of decline that would trigger EN status or not.

    In this review, Levin and I propose that the former status for Kazakhstan determined by Moshkin is retained and that the current status should be regarded as 1100 bp (800-1450 bp). I argue that the population in Mongolia is stable (not declining) and that the population in China is larger than the 1000-2000 bp reported by Moshkin. I believe my statements to be true – I am not saying them to be corrupt, perverse or to prevent EN status. They are my honest opinion of the status of the Saker in these countries. I have explained how I arrived at these opinions.

    Contributors to this forum who attack me as being corrupt or as some sort of advocate for the Saker to have a lower IUCN status than it really deserves should take into account the following from the Guidelines for Using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria:

    “The category of threat is not necessarily sufficient to determine priorities for conservation action. The category of threat simply provides an assessment of the extinction risk under current circumstances, whereas a system for assessing priorities for action will include numerous other factors concerning conservation action such as costs, logistics, chances of success, and other biological characteristics (Mace and Lande 1991). The Red List should therefore not be interpreted as a means of priority setting (IUCN 2001).”

  18. Mátyás Prommer says:

    I would like to thank to everyone for the comments! I have learnt a lot from the contributions. I do think that this kind of debates – despite some misunderstandings, which are still on as I understood from the last comments – can lead us forward to see the most problematic issues and to target future actions. Especially, that we saw from the introduction and comments above, and – as I understood – we all agreed that the species is in serious trouble affecting the core populations; and joint international conservation actions are needed instead of separated local projects (which are important too, of course!)
    The soon-coming first meeting of CMS Saker Falcon Task Force will be the next platform, where we can further discuss the way forward and hopefully practical conservation actions in range countries will follow soon.
    Thank you again.

  19. Joe Taylor says:

    We have taken into account the information posted above and incorporated this into our re-assessment of the status of Saker Falcon. Importantly, the only information that is relevant to the assessment of extinction risk are the estimates of population size and trend. The impacts of any listing on conservation action, the treatment of the species in international conventions, the importance of conservation actions, the assessment of conservation priority and the political consequences of any Red List categorisation are all important subjects, but are irrelevant to the assessment of extinction risk using the Red List categories and criteria, as noted by some of the contributors.

    In terms of the population data, we have used the contributions above to adjust the current estimates for China and Kazakhstan. The current estimate for China was given as 1,500 pairs (range 1,000-2,000 pairs) by Moshkin (2010) who extracted it from a report by the Xinjiang Conservation Fund (2008). However, A. Dixon (in litt. 2012) noted that it relates only to the populations in Xinjiang, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia, and not the entire distribution in China. For this reason, A Dixon’s (in litt. 2012) estimate of 3,000 pairs (range 1,000-5,000 pairs) for China is used. The present-day estimate for Kazakhstan has also been changed, from 980 pairs (Levin 2011) to 800-1,450 pairs (median 1,125 pairs) (A. Dixon and A. Levin in litt. 2012). The revised population trend analysis (see spreadsheet dated 21 Feb 12, posted below the forum topic), assuming an exponential trend, results in a calculated decline of 2-75% (median 47%) over the past three generations. It can be seen that the breadth of possible global decline rates is large, equating to categories ranging from Least Concern to nearly Critically Endangered. This reflects the considerable uncertainty in many of the estimates, particularly those in the countries holding the bulk of the remaining population. For example, a reduction in the median estimate for China from 3,000 pairs to 2,300 pairs (a proportionately small reduction given that the minimum and maximum estimates are 1,000 and 5,000 pairs respectively) would increase the median estimate of global decline rate from 47% to 50% (the threshold for Endangered). In view of these results and uncertainty, we take the view that the overall decline rate should precautionarily be placed in the band 50-80% over three generations, and the species will be recategorised as Endangered under criteria A2b,c,d, A3c,d, A4b,c,d. This will be associated with strong caveats that the classification is highly uncertain and may be revised when new information becomes available, and that surveys are urgently needed to produce more robust and less uncertain estimates, in particular for China, Russia and Mongolia.

    References:

    Levin, A. S. (2011) Illegal Trade and decrease in numbers of the Saker Falcon in Kazakhstan. Raptors Conservation 23: 64-73.

    Moshkin, A. V. (2010) Is there any scientific basis for decreasing the conservation status of the Saker Falcon? Raptors Conservation 19: 37-74.

    Xinjiang Conservation Fund (2008) Summary Version of Report on Illegal Poaching and Trade of Saker Falcon in Xinjiang. Available at: http://www.greengrants.org.cn/file/pub/saker.pdf

    BirdLife International
    21 February 2012

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