16 Jun 2020

Latest research: vulture and ibis recovery, Amazon hotspot in peril

The world may have ground to a halt during the COVID-19 crisis, but researchers around the globe are still writing and publishing papers on key scientific discoveries. Here are three highlights from across the Birdlife Partnership.

White-rumped Vulture © Deepak Sankat
White-rumped Vulture © Deepak Sankat
By Jessica Law

Nepal’s Critically Endangered vultures are starting to recover

Fantastic news for the White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis and Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris, whose populations have finally started to recover after huge declines. This is encouraging proof that Nepal’s Vulture Safe Zones (VSZs) are working. The VSZ initiative uses awareness-raising and advocacy to end the sale of diclofenac – a painkiller for livestock, but deadly to vultures that scavenge their carcasses. Surveys show that White-rumped Vulture numbers have begun to increase since 2013, and Slender-billed Vultures since 2012. Undercover investigations in pharmacies show that sales of diclofenac (outlawed in 2006) had also been successfully phased out around this time. This demonstrates that community engagement – combined with the provision of safe, non-toxic food – has the potential to help prevent vulture extinctions.


Northern Bald Ibis © Cloudtail the Snow Leopard / Flickr

What makes a good home for the Northern Bald Ibis?

You may remember the unmistakable Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita from our news coverage back in November 2018. Back then, we were celebrating the news that its status had improved from Critically Endangered to Endangered in our yearly update to the Red List, thanks to decades of conservation effort. If we want its star to continue to rise, however, we need to know the exact conditions it requires to breed. Not wanting to do anything by halves, researchers analysed the ecological conditions of all 72 Moroccan breeding sites used by the species since 1900. The team measured factors such as altitude, climate and terrain, as well as making resourceful use of Google Earth satellite images to determine land use, vegetation and distance from human settlements. Two elements emerged as the most important factors: low levels of disturbance, and adequate feeding grounds within 5-15 kilometres. This is important knowledge for any future translocation projects for this species, which currently inhabits only three breeding sites in Morocco.

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Southern Festive Amazon © Cláudio Dias Timm

Government dam plan threatens Amazon biodiversity hotspot

Rio Branco, a tributary of the Amazon River, is a beautiful and truly unique natural spectacle. Upriver, crystal-clear water cascades through rapids, fringed with dense forest. Further down, its waters meander lazily across the Amazon floodplain. On its journey to the ocean, it supports a stunning diversity of species and habitats. Tragically, government plans to build a major hydroelectric dam on the river could permanently flood the area, destroying these ecosystems forever. 15 years of ornithological research shows that at least 439 bird species inhabit the zone, many of them rare and specialised. These include 23 species of global conservation concern – important information for campaigns to prevent this devastating development from going ahead.


Get our latest research updates in Bird Conservation International, BirdLife's quarterly peer-reviewed journal.