More Egyptian Vultures tagged with GPS transmitters in Ethiopia and new insights into threats it faces in the region

22.01.2020

© Steffen Oppel

A joint team of EWNHS, external experts, RSPB and BSPB headed towards Afar in Ethiopia once again in December. The aim of the mission was to trap and tag with GPS transmitters more Egyptian Vultures and survey the main threats for the species and especially the use of poison.
 

For just over two weeks under the hot African sun, we managed to capture 8 Egyptian Vultures and equipped them with solar-powered GSM/GPS transmitters. With this achievement, we increased the number of tracked Egyptian Vultures in Ethiopia to 15. Trapping Egyptian Vultures is not that easy. It involves early wake-ups, long hours under the heat spent at the rubbish dump, keeping away other species which are regularly walking through the trapping area like Marabou Storks, Hooded Vultures, Sacred Ibises, dogs, donkeys, and even warthogs and hyenas. But what you need most is patience and the ability to see the world through the eyes of the vultures. 
 

Basaka, Awash, Alolobad, Semera, Dalol, Loma, Lubo, and Milli are our new friends and heroes who will reveal the most important areas for the species in Ethiopia. We will track their every-day movements and fly on their wings from the wintering grounds to their homes in the north. The information these birds will provide will significantly increase our knowledge of the behavior of the species in the wintering grounds, the threats they face and inform adequate conservation measures for this endangered vulture.
 

Among the main threats for the species in most of its range is poisoning. We conducted over 70 interviews with livestock breeders and representatives of authorities to get a thorough understanding of the prevalence of poisoning in Afar. Our interviews revealed that the vast majority of livestock herders experienced problems with carnivores, especially hyenas, jackals, leopards and feral dogs that occasionally attacked their livestock. Nearly 50% of the respondents admitted that poisoning is among the means used in their community to tackle the problem with the carnivores. Vultures as ultimate scavengers can consume the poison baits or carcasses and become unintentional victims of this dangerous practice and such cases were reported by the locals. The livestock breeders also shared information about Egyptian Vulture mortalities caused by electrocution at dangerous powerlines. Another threat to the vultures is the use of strychnine in poisoning campaigns targeting feral dogs in the towns and villages. The collected information will enable us to plan our future conservation actions and advocate for the adoption of alternative methods for controlling the number of feral dogs.
 

In the late afternoons just before sunset, we were counting the roosting Egyptian Vultures on the high-voltage powerlines. We recorded a congregation of 1484 Egyptian Vultures and observed some other raptor species wintering in the same area such as Steppe Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Black Kite, and Osprey. One adult Egyptian Vulture was found dead on the road, while two more were found dead under dangerous powerlines. These records confirm once again that we need to work on multiple fronts in the next years to minimize the threats for the Egyptian Vulture in Ethiopia!

 

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.

Pictures