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Africa’s Vultures Are Collapsing to Extinction

Among members of the public, I describe myself as a conservationist, or more typically my response is, “I study birds.”

Among my conservation colleagues, I have to go a step further—”I study vultures”—to which the near-unanimous reply is “I just don’t see vultures anymore.” Sigh …

Lappet-faced, White-backed and Cape Vultures squabble over a carcass at Sable Dam, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Our study suggests that these three species are declining at a rate of 80%–92% over three generations (about 45–55 years) (photo Andre Botha).
Lappet-faced, white-backed, and Cape vultures squabble over a carcass at Sable Dam, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Our study suggests that these three species are declining at a rate of 80–92 percent over three generations (about 45–55 years). (Photo by Andre Botha)

Sadly, that statement reflects the reality on the ground these days across Africa. In particular, the past five years have been brutal for what are arguably nature’s most important scavengers.

Poisoning, poisoning, and more poisoning. Whether you’re a fan of vultures’ unique lifestyle or not, you can’t begrudge an animal a safe meal when that animal does such ubiquitous good for mankind. Yet for a vulture, to eat and be poisoned or not to eat: that is the question.

66 vultures were poisoned in one incident at Derby farm, Limpopo, South Africa on 7 May 2015. Poisoning is the biggest threat to Africa’s vultures (photo Andre Botha).
Sixty-six vultures were poisoned in one incident at Derby farm, Limpopo, South Africa on May 7, 2015. Poisoning is the biggest threat to Africa’s vultures. (Photo by Andre Botha)

Majestic to those who know them, yet unloved by many, vultures bear the brunt of retaliatory poisonings targeting predators that have killed livestock.

The poaching crisis facing elephants has also quietly resulted in the carnage of thousands of vultures. Over the last three years poachers have relentlessly laced elephant carcasses to eliminate vultures and prevent their overhead circling from giving away the scene of the crime.

Then there is the unsustainable harvesting of vultures for traditional medicine. How “traditional” (or medicinal?) is your vulture-based medicine when 40 percent of parts on sale come from birds that have been killed by pesticides?

That Africa’s vultures are in crisis is no longer in doubt. Our most recent study confirms that eight species of African vulture have declined an average of 62 percent over the past three decades. Given annual decline rates, they are projected to decline from 70-97 percent over three generations, or approximately 50 years. Without conservation intervention, extinction is certain. And because vultures don’t breed like rabbits, their declines will be felt for many decades to come.

Rüppell's Vulture descending: studies in West and East Africa  suggest that populations of Rüppell's Vulture are declining at a rate of about 97% over three generations (or 56 years) (photo Ralph Buij).
Rüppell’s vulture descending: studies in West and East Africa suggest that populations of Rüppell’s vulture are declining at a rate of about 97 percent over three generations (or 56 years). (Photo by Ralph Buij)

For those of us working to conserve Africa’s vultures, we are a beleaguered bunch. Vultures in the wild desperately need our help to raise awareness about the need for better regulation of pesticides and other poisons, particularly in Africa. This is how you can help us to make an impact:
1) Share this blog post and the full study as widely as possible: “Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction.”
2) Support our work by donating to The Peregrine Fund’s Africa Program
3) Get in touch if you have any ideas on how to help: tpf@peregrinefund.org

Read All Posts by Darcy Ogada

Comments

  1. amber
    australia
    August 17, 2015, 12:29 am

    Human over-population is the BIG problem which very seldom is talked about. Quit breeding.

  2. Bill
    Texas
    July 8, 2015, 5:06 pm

    Wow. Thanks. I get to refer to lappet-faced vultures many times each week. I’ll include this. Thank you, again.

  3. Danielle Tierney Tranter
    California Desert
    July 5, 2015, 1:02 am

    I think the only way to try to save crumbling ecosystems is to designate most of the planet as protected wildlands and pay people to be caretakers instead of poachers as well as paying communities to protect land rather than encroach upon it. People need to earn a living and saving the planet is the most necessary job in the world. Business as usual is killing everything.

  4. celestine mugambi
    kenya
    July 5, 2015, 12:54 am

    Thanking you for great work n creating awarenes.looking forward to see a vulture

  5. Stacie linebaugh
    July 5, 2015, 12:37 am

    It is time to use drones…24/7
    there are drones with infared for night..
    shoot to kill poachers

  6. Dr Amrut parmar Associate professor Zoology
    India
    July 4, 2015, 10:01 am

    Save Birds any how

  7. Dr Amrut parmar Associate professor Zoology
    India
    July 4, 2015, 10:00 am

    There’s always something you can do locally, even for big, multi-national organisations and pressure groups. Spread the word! That helps, enormously and save Vultures.

  8. Linda F
    USA
    July 3, 2015, 3:24 pm

    Hiring locals as protectors or conservation officers has worked in some areas for the elephants and other species. They know the area, the people. Often they are admired by the locals. Who regret the losses too.

  9. Paulm
    Australia
    July 3, 2015, 4:34 am

    Good we all watch David what’s his name shows as Africa in 50 /100 years will be but urban cities farm land and mines with a few Islamist wars to continue to stop people traveling to this once great land. From a distance Africa is being destroyed before our eyes. Ho well that’s what the locals seem to want it seems. They don,t care they just want to be like us in the west. Little do they know we are all just slaves to the corporation.

  10. Paulm
    Australia
    July 3, 2015, 4:32 am

    Good we all watch David what’s his name shows as Africa in 50 /100 years will be but urban cities farm land and mines with a few Islamist wars to continue to stop people traveling to this once great land. From a distance Africa is being destroyed before our eyes. Ho well that’s what the locals seem to want it seems. They don,t care they just want to be like us in the west. Little do they know we are all just slaves to the corporation.

  11. alba
    england
    July 2, 2015, 4:09 pm

    I think its discusting, some one needs yo educate these tribes, and to make sure to put does poor animals on yhe protected animal list.

  12. Zdena Zelinsky
    July 2, 2015, 1:56 pm

    I’ve seen documentaries regarding disappearing vultures. The huge ignorance of humans don’t realize what service those birds perform. If the carcasses don’t get eaten by them, they will attract rodents that spread diseases, which will kill humans as well. Human greed will destroy everything that is beautiful.

  13. Leigh Lofgren
    July 1, 2015, 11:52 am

    horrendous and it’s only getting worse. Something must be done that works – stop hunting, killing, poaching and attack the people who are behind the scenes. The other major problem is that China is now in Africa in a big way doing the infostructure of this continent and how stupid is that? They are the worst of the worst and I’m all for helping, but we need to get truly serious and stop the rot. I am just sick at the thought of what man is doing and we are killing everything we have. I love Africa, I’m a photographer and it is the most amazing place and love it. It must be saved.

  14. Leigh Lofgren
    Greensboro, GA, USA
    July 1, 2015, 11:49 am

    What on earth are we doing to this earth? It was once beautiful until man came into the picture to ruin perfection. I agree with Naomi above as something must be done to protect all our wild animals, their lifestyles and habitat. I have been to Africa many times as a photographer and it’s a stunning place and so depressing knowing what is going on and nothing seems to be stopping the poaching, hunting, killing and now this…..it must end and how awful is man?

  15. Matt
    UK
    July 1, 2015, 8:47 am

    There’s always something you can do locally, even for big, multi-national organisations and pressure groups. Spread the word! That helps, enormously.

  16. Naomi Radunski
    July 1, 2015, 1:20 am

    Disheartening. There seems to be no limit to the damage the human species is willing to inflict. I wish there was something I could DO to help – so many people give money, as much as they can afford, but there is a growing desire amongst regular citizens to take ACTION on behalf of the animals under siege. I wish there were some new ideas around this – I would definitely help.
    Thank you for your dedication.