Archived 2015 topics: Proposed status changes for six species of African vulture

African endemics:

White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis: uplist from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered?

Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus: uplist from Endangered to Critically Endangered?

White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus: uplist from Endangered to Critically Endangered?

Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres: uplist from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered?

Rüppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii: uplist from Endangered to Critically Endangered?

Africa and Middle East:

Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos: uplist from Vulnerable to Endangered?

 

Background

A recent study by Ogada et al. (2015) – see open access paper here http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12182/epdf – uses published and unpublished data on African vultures to provide an overview of their status on the continent, estimating declines over three generations.

The study uses information derived from two main sources: (1) an extensive review of literature already known to the authors, augmented with publications sourced through Google Scholar and (2) un-published data, mainly from road surveys and counts of dead vultures .Data were searched during June-July 2012, and were collected using a range of methods, including road counts, foot and aerial surveys, and bird atlas records.

African vultures face multiple threats. They include incidental and deliberate poisoning, the illegal trade in vulture body parts for traditional medicine, killing for bushmeat, mortality caused by power lines and wind turbines, and a reduction in habitat and the availability of food from wild game populations.

The greatest threat appears to be poisoning, which accounted for 61% of all reported deaths. African vultures are often the unintended victims of poisoning incidents, in which carcasses are baited with highly toxic agricultural pesticides to kill livestock predators. However the study also shows that the recent rapid increase in elephant and rhino poaching throughout Africa has led to a surge in the number of vulture deaths recorded, as carcasses have been poisoned specifically to eliminate vultures, whose overhead circling might otherwise reveal the poachers’ illicit activities.

The study also assesses the African status of Egyptian Vulture and Bearded Vulture, but these are not reviewed here since the majority of the global population is outside Africa.

Results from the study for the six relevant species, and resulting proposals, are summarised by species here:

 

White-headed Vulture

Currently listed as Vulnerable as the global population is estimated to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and undergoing continuing slow to moderate declines. The species will be listed as nationally Endangered in the forthcoming Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Ogada et al. estimate a median decline over three generations (45 years) of 96% (upper quartile 73%, lower quartile 98%). It is therefore proposed to uplist the species to Critically Endangered.

 

Hooded Vulture

Was previously uplisted from Least Concern to Endangered in 2011 as suspected to be undergoing very rapid population declines (see previous forum discussion). The species will be listed as nationally Endangered in the forthcoming Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Ogada et al. estimate a median decline over three generations (53 years) of 83% (upper quartile 64%, lower quartile 93%). It is therefore proposed to uplist the species to Critically Endangered.

 

White-backed Vulture

Was previously uplisted from Near Threatened to Endangered in 2012 as suspected to be undergoing very rapid population declines (see previous forum discussion). The species will be listed as nationally Endangered in the forthcoming Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Ogada et al. estimate a median decline over three generations (55 years) of 90% (upper quartile 75%, lower quartile 95%). It is therefore proposed to uplist the species to Critically Endangered.

 

Cape Vulture

Currently listed as Vulnerable as the global population is estimated to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and undergoing continuing slow to moderate declines. The species will be listed as nationally Endangered in the forthcoming Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Ogada et al. estimate a median decline over three generations (48 years) of 92% (upper quartile 87%, lower quartile 94%). It is therefore proposed to uplist the species to Critically Endangered.

 

Ruppell’s Vulture

Was previously uplisted from Near Threatened to Endangered in 2012 as suspected to be undergoing very rapid population declines (see previous forum discussion).

Ogada et al. estimate a median decline over three generations (56 years) of 97% (upper quartile 94%, lower quartile 99%). It is therefore proposed to uplist the species to Critically Endangered.
Lappet-faced Vulture

Currently listed as Vulnerable as the global population is estimated to be fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and undergoing continuing slow to moderate declines. The species will be listed as nationally Endangered in the forthcoming Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

8,000 individuals (c.5,700 mature individuals) estimated in Africa in 1992, and a maximum of 600 pairs, but possibly fewer, in the Arabian Peninsula in 2013 (where stable or possibly undergoing a slow decline).

Ogada et al. estimate a median decline in Africa over three generations (45 years) of 80% (upper quartile 65%, lower quartile 87%).

Assuming a stable population of 1,000 mature individuals in Arabia, applying the median decline in Africa reported by Ogada et al. (80%) to a population of 5,700 mature individuals in 1992 would result in a global decline at a rate of around 74%, which would qualify the species for uplisting to Endangered under criterion A of the Red List. Taking upper quartile for the African data (a more conservative estimate of decline), would still result in a global decline of 58% (meeting the threshold for classification as Endangered).

It is therefore proposed to uplist the species to Endangered at the global level.

 

Comments and additional information on all these proposals and on the estimated population trends for these species are welcomed.

 

References

Ogada, D.; Shaw, P.; Beyers, R. L.. Buij, R.; Murn, C.; Thiollay, J. M.; Beale, C. M.; Holdo, R. M.; Pomeroy, D.; Baker, N.; Krüger, S. C.; Botha, A.; Virani, M. Z.; Monadjem, A. & Sinclair, A. R. E. 2015. Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa’s Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction. Conservation Letters. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12182/epdf

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16 Responses to Archived 2015 topics: Proposed status changes for six species of African vulture

  1. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Abstract from a forthcoming paper on White-headed Vulture, currently under review (Murn et al.), which estimates the global population to be substantially lower than previous estimates:

    The White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis (WhV) is uncommon and largely restricted to protected areas across its range in sub-Saharan Africa. We used the World Database on Protected Areas to identify protected areas (PAs) likely to contain White-headed Vultures. Vulture occurrence on road transects in Southern, East and West Africa was adjusted to nests per km2 using data from areas with known numbers of nests and corresponding road transect data. Nest density was used to calculate the number of WhV nests within identified PAs and from there extrapolated to estimate the global population. Across a fragmented range, 400 PAs are estimated to contain 1893 WhV nests. Eastern Africa is estimated to contain 721 nests, Central Africa 548 nests, Southern Africa 468 nests and West Africa 156 nests. Including immature and non-breeding birds the estimated global population is 5528 birds. The identified distribution highlights is alarming: over 78% (n = 313) of identified PAs contain fewer than five nests. A further 17% (n = 68) of PAs contain 5 – 20 nests and 4% (n = 14) of identified PAs estimated to contain >20 nests. Just 1% (n = 5) of PAs are estimated to contain >40 nests; none is located in West Africa. Whilst ranging behaviour of WhVs is currently unknown, 35% of PAs large enough to hold >20 nests are isolated by more than 100 km from other PAs. Spatially discrete and unpredictable mortality events such as poisoning pose major threats to small localised vulture populations and will accelerate ongoing local extinctions. Apart from reducing the threat of poisoning events, conservation actions promoting linkages between protected areas should be pursued. Identifying potential areas for assisted re-establishment via translocation offers the potential to expand the range of this species and alleviate risk.

    Murn, C.; Mundy, P.; Virani, M. Z.; Borello, W. D.; Holloway, G. J.; Thiollay, J. M. under review. Can Africa’s protected area network conserve the White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis? Evidence from a revised global population estimate.

  2. Philip Hall says:

    I would strongly recommend that all species of vulture in Africa be upgraded to Critically Endangered. In Nigeria, all the large species of vulture have been totally extirpated throughout the country and only isolated populations of Hooded Vulture can now be found which are under tremendous pressure.

  3. Warren Goodwin says:

    African endemic species considered by Ogada et al. (2015) that have shown a very rapid decline over recent years, including the Hooded Vulture, White – backed Vulture and Ruppell’s Griffon currently appear to face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild and thus qualify for the status of ‘Critically Endangered’ at a global level. This appears to apply equally to the White-headed Vulture, particularly when taking into account recent alarmingly low population estimates suggested by Murn et al. (cited in a previous post).

    Ogada et al. also suggest that there is a particularly strong case for the status upgrade of the Cape Griffon to ‘Critically Endangered’ at a global level, however Benson (2015) suggests a recent general recovery in numbers within the ‘core’ South African breeding population of this southern African endemic. Despite this, the loss of the Namibian breeding population, along with other satellite sites, confirm the need for ongoing and intensified protection on a regional scale. However, when taking all currently available information into account, a reassessment of the proposal for upgrade to ‘Critically Endangered’ against IUCN criteria seems prudent. It may be that a suitable ‘compromise’ would be an upgrade from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ status, in line with the updated listing in the forthcoming Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, which covers a region holding around 80% of the global population of this species. Along with the Lappet – faced Vulture, best available evidence does indicate that the Cape Griffon faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild if current threats are not controlled or mitigated.

    References

    Benson, P. 2015. A survey of Cape Vulture breeding colonies in South Africa’s northern provinces (Transvaal Region) – an update 2013, Ornithological Observations 2015 6:31-36. Published online on 2015-02-23,
    http://oo.adu.org.za/content.php?id=170

    Ogada, D.; Shaw, P.; Beyers, R. L.; Buij, R.; Murn, C.; Thiollay, J. M.; Beale, C. M.; Holdo, R. M.; Pomeroy, D.; Baker, N.; Krüger, S. C.; Botha, A.; Virani, M. Z.; Monadjem, A. & Sinclair, A. R. E. 2015. Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa’s Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction. Conservation Letters. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/conl.12182/epdf

  4. Hugo Rainey says:

    All proposed changes to status seem logical. Rate of decline is likely to continue in the future as well.

  5. Wilson Mhlanga says:

    I concur with the proposed changes. There is need to channel more resources for monitoring the status of these vultures.

  6. DABONE says:

    I highly recommend an increase in the alert level for African vulture. They should all be classified as critically endangered. Indeed in Burkina Faso for the six species reported outside the hooded vulture, no species were encountered during the enumeration of hooded vulture initiated last year. But the authors reported on their presence in protected areas.
    Regarding hooded vulture for which we have worked for three years, the regression of the population is very remarkable. In the region of the center hooded vulture virtually disappeared. In Ouagadougou we can not see them that at the slaughterhouse. In Koudougou and its surroundings no individual was observed. To the west of the country Bobo Dioulasso, Banfora, the hooded vulture crash is a reality. At Bobo abbatoire second largest city of the country no individual was observed. young butcher from 20 to 25 years who works there do not even know the species. Though in 1990 the species were heavily represented in Bobo.
    Apers our investigations the main causes are:
    – Poisoning intensional (more than 6 trial since 2011 have been done to punish poachers)
    – Unintentional Poisoning
    – Egg removal, young, and even the nest
    – Many other causes that we investigate.
    So I recommend that the Hooded vulture and other species of African Vultures is high at critically endangered

    • Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

      Thanks very much for your comment. So we can credit you as a contributor, could you please give your full name?

  7. Peter Mundy says:

    sorry, but several of these up-listings are nonsense. The so-called “generation length” used by BLI, and quoted by Darcy et al., is bizarre and far too long for all species. Vultures breed at about 5 or 6 years of age. BLI’s numbers of between 15 and 18.8 years must refer to average longevity! There are so many vultures in southern Africa in spite of the recent spate of poisonings. Hooded and White-backed Vultures in sth Africa should be listed as VU, along with CG, LfV and WhV. It is very clear that BLI cannot have one status that fits the whole of Africa for any one species. We are now seeing 3 different regions with their different threats and impacts.

    • Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

      Hi Peter, and thanks for your comment. Please note that these generation length estimates are calculated according to IUCN guidance (pp25-27 here http://jr.iucnredlist.org/documents/RedListGuidelines.pdf). Generation length is not the same as age at first breeding, and indeed these calculated generation lengths are based in part on estimates of 5-7 years for mean age at first breeding for these species – consistent with the figures for first breeding that you suggest.

      We are well aware that there are different threats and impacts across the large ranges of these species, and that this makes assessing their overall status challenging. However, since we carry out Red List assessments at the global level, that is what we need to do as best we can with the available information.

      Several of these vultures may well be faring less badly in southern Africa than elsewhere on the continent, but the fact that there are still ‘so many’ does not preclude their being uplisted if the overall rate of decline is sufficiently great. We have to be really careful not to disregard rapidly declining species because they’re still numerous in places – there may well have been even larger numbers in these areas in the past. Examples from elsewhere (by far the most extreme being Passenger Pigeon) demonstrate this.

      Having said that, the purpose of this consultation is to gather further information and it may be that some or all of these proposed changes do not turn out to be warranted. We’d be very interested to see any trend data you have for any of these species in southern Africa to help us to assess the overall picture.

      Best wishes
      Andy Symes

  8. Patrick Benson says:

    I agree with Peter Mundy that, at least for some species the information in Ogada et al 2015 is nonsense. Long-term observations of Cape Vultures in South Africa indicate these birds are increasing, and have been for over a decade. Though Ogada et al. make rash comments about Cape Vultures, their use of outdated material, while ignoring information, that at least three of the authors had access to, seems suspect at best.

  9. Kevin Shaw says:

    I have to agree with Peter Mundy, Patrick Benson, and Warren Goodwin in terms of the Cape Vulture. The Ogada paper states quite clearly that the estimates of Cape Vulture was based on three sites – unfortunately my copy does not list which sites they are – and even admits that this is a shortcoming. I was therefore surprised to see the recommendation that the species be listed as Critically Endangered. Bensons paper on the northern colonies which are the biggest colonies indicate a recovery in numbers. If these colonies are increasing then it is unlikely that the estimated median decline of 92% by Ogada can be correct. I would like to recommend that we re-look at this species taking into the information provided in Benson’s paper and possibly try and get information from other colonies that were not included in the assessment.

  10. Patrick Benson says:

    Surveys of the Eastern Cape, funded by BirdLife South Africa, conducted by David Allan, Carl Vernon, myself, with assistance of several other people, indicates that Cape Vulture numbers in that region (the second largest sub-population), have shown a similar increase as those observed in the Transvaal Region.

    In the Free State Zastron had birds breeding last year, after an absence of decades. Within the last two days here in Mpumalanga, I have been given information about Cape Vultures, possibly breeding in an area where I have seen birds but was unaware of the site where they roosted. This farmer had Cape Vultures on the ground last week. If birds are breeding on the cliff on his property, then it will be the first for Mpumalanga for many years, and possibly a new location.

    Literature searches are interesting and useful, but need field data to make them robust and relevant.

  11. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2015 Red List would be to list:

    White-headed Vulture as Critically Endangered

    Hooded Vulture as Critically Endangered

    White-backed Vulture as Critically Endangered

    Cape Vulture as Endangered

    Rüppell’s Vulture as Critically Endangered

    Lappet-faced Vulture as Endangered

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 August, after which the recommended categorisation will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  12. Angus Anthony says:

    I would also agree with Peter Mundy, Pat Benson, Warren Goodwin and Kevin Shaw. Conditions very greatly in Southern Africa, both the threats and the breeding successes. For the W-b Vultures, the ongoing study north of Kimberley, which is in it’s 22nd year, has had an average fledgling success of 59% per year. However the more interesting aspect is that the number of breeding pairs has increased by 72% in the 22 years. This is from an average of 50 breeding pairs in the first five years of the study to an average of 86 breeding pairs in the last five years.
    Having said that I accept that the threats to vultures throughout Africa have changed, old threats have increased and new threats have appeared, noticeably the intentional poisoning, traditional medicine and as a food source, along with incidental poisoning, electrocutions, collisions with power lines and wind turbines and the reduction in suitable breeding and feeding habitat.
    If a higher endangered status will result in action been taken to limit these threats facing vultures in Africa, then it has my support.
    We also need to remember, the measure of our success as conservationists, is not how many species are on the endangered list, but how few. So if we give vultures a higher status now, lets do it with a plan that will enable them to be delisted in the years to come.

  13. Clive R Barlow says:

    The Gambia. We are regularly monitoring hooded vulture in coastal regions & at a number of abbatoirs throughout & at least the stats for this spp look encouraging & we hope that these road surveys & some river work for br WBV & PNV will soon be extended to the whole of the country on a bi-annual basis (funds allowing) with a view of allowing the status of our listed vulture popluations to be better known. As I have regularly written the case for vultures here is not yet lost.

  14. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Recommended categorisations to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposals for the 2015 Red List status of these species. These are to list:

    White-headed Vulture as Critically Endangered

    Hooded Vulture as Critically Endangered

    White-backed Vulture as Critically Endangered

    Cape Vulture as Endangered

    Rüppell’s Vulture as Critically Endangered

    Lappet-faced Vulture as Endangered

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife website in late October and on the IUCN website in November, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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