SCF and BSPB join forces to study Egyptian Vultures in Niger

22.03.2020

© Volen Arkumarev

In February a joint team of SCF and BSPB led a research mission in the frame of the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project in Koutous massif, Niger. Intense monitoring and search of Egyptian Vulture territories were conducted for over two weeks. As a result, 7 new territories were identified, bringing to 11 the total number of confirmed breeding territories in Koutous massif. In addition, single adults were observed in four more territories: further observations are needed to confirm their status. The species resident population might, therefore, be larger than expected and the massif probably holds more than 20 breeding pairs! From what we could observe, in most territories incubation had already started but few pairs were still displaying and building nests.
 

Interesting findings on other cliff-nesting raptors were also made. In total 12 Ruppell’s Vultures nests were found. In 6 of the chicks were observed while the others have either failed or didn’t start breeding this year. Lanner falcons were also regularly seen, 15 occupied territories were found with some pairs already feeding chicks. Other raptors were observed as well e.g. Bataleur, Booted Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-shouldered Kite, Scissor-tailed Kite, etc.
 

While monitoring, our team came across a very interesting case: a breeding Egyptian Vulture trio! First, a female was observed incubating in the nest and later two other individuals appeared in the territory. They were flying together as a pair before landing in the sandy dunes not far from the breeding cliff. On the ground one of the vultures was constantly disturbing the other one which was trying to keep distances. Later they moved together to roost on the breeding cliff but used two different locations which were regularly used for roosting as indicated by the prominent fresh whitewashes. Based on this behavior we speculate that those two individuals were male while the third one incubating was the female. On the next morning, both vultures left their roosting sites together and landed near the entrance of the nest where the third bird was incubating. Last year one juvenile has successfully fledged from this nest.

 

Egyptian Vultures are mostly monogamous but previous cases of breeding trios have been recorded in Spain, Israel, and France. However, this is the first case recorded in a resident breeding population. There are different hypotheses explaining the formation of polyandry trios in Egyptian Vultures and other raptors. According to some experts, polyandry might be a result of food shortage and the cooperation of males might increase chances for successful reproduction. According to another theory, trios can form in high-quality territories giving better chances for reproduction to males which otherwise would not be successful. It may also ensure the occupation of a good territory even if one of the males die.
 

In addition to nest monitoring, our team spent lots of time observing Egyptian Vultures at a congregation site. Rubbish dump or slaughterhouse are the usual congregation sites used by Egyptian vultures. However, the only congregation identified in Koutous massif is a waterpoint where vultures come to drink water under the hot and dry climate of Sahel. Our team aimed at trapping and tagging Egyptians Vultures with GPS transmitters there, in order to learn more about their movements and the threats they face in Niger, but all attempts to trap vultures were unfortunately unsuccessful.

 

Individual identification based on plumage characteristics allowed us to record 35 different Egyptian Vultures at the waterhole over a period of 8 days, mostly immatures and subadults. Some individuals were observed in consecutive days while others were recorded only once during the study period. Visited both by local resident Egyptian Vultures and by Palearctic migrants wintering in the area, this waterpoint is of high conservation importance for the species!
 

The same waterpoint was regularly visited by Paschalis which was tracked from his nest in Greece to Niger in 2013. He was the first vulture which managed to cross the Mediterranean sea on autumn migration only to be later killed in Niger by a Nigerian hunter at this very same waterpoint and sold for belief-based use in Nigeria. Based on the information collected at the time, 7 more vultures were killed by the same hunter at this place.

 

Our team met with the village chief who recalled the Paschalis case and assured that since then no more Nigerian hunters were coming. The tragic story of Paschalis actually brought lots of attention and helped saving many more Egyptian Vulture lives.  

 

However, illegal killing of vultures still occurs in Niger and on a single stand visited on a market in Zinder 2 carcasses of Egyptian Vultures and 2 of Ruppell’s Vultures were found. In a previous visit, only one carcass of each species was found on sale at this stand confirming that two of the vultures are new.
 

SCF will continue its intense work with local chiefs, traditional healers, local communities and all relevant stakeholders in order to ensure the survival of the species in Niger.

 

The LIFE project "Egyptian Vulture New LIFE (LIFE16 NAT/BG/000874) brings together institutions and organizations from 14 countries spanning the Balkans, Middle East and Africa and is implemented with the financial support of the EU LIFE Programme. The Coordinating Beneficiary is the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds / BirdLife Bulgaria (BSPB). Associated Beneficiaries are:  Hellenic Ornithological Society / BirdLife Greece (HOS),  WWF Greece, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds / BirdLife UK (RSPB), Doğa Derneği / BirdLife Turkey (DD), regional offices of BirdLife International in Africa and Middle East, A.P. Leventis Ornithological and Research Institute (APLORI), CMS Raptors MoU, Green Balkans.

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