A vulture is a carnivorous, scavenging bird species. They do not hunt, but rather search for carcasses that are either easy to tear apart or have already been torn apart by larger scavengers. Vultures are unique looking and typically have a feather-free or almost feather-free head and large, hooked beak. The species in Africa are referred to as Old World Vultures, and there are 11 species on the continent. Of these, six are endangered. This article looks at those vultures and the reasons they are at risk of extinction.
Threatened African Vultures
The first bird on the list is the White-Headed Vulture, which is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered. The White-Headed Vulture lives throughout sub-Saharan Africa in open grassland areas. This vulture species has experienced a sharp decline in numbers over the last few years due to habitat loss, which also affects its prey, leaving the vulture with reduced food availability. Indirectly, locals have been poisoning jackals which lead to the vultures eating poisoned meat. Recent estimates suggest there are approximately 5,500 White-Headed Vultures left in the world.
The White-Backed Vulture is also listed as critically endangered by the IUCN and has just 270,000 remaining. It is still considered the most widespread vulture in Africa. It is its rapid population loss that has caused it to be placed on the critically endangered list. This decrease in numbers is caused by habitat destruction and a local move of using the land for agriculture and livestock. The population is expected to continue declining.
Joining the previous vultures is the Hooded Vulture, which has an IUCN classification of critically endangered. This species lives near human settlements but can also be found in grassland, wooded savannas, and deserts. The population has experienced an extremely rapid decline over the last few years due to poisoning and habitat loss. The Hooded Vulture is also poached for its value in traditional medicine practices.
Ruppell’s Vulture is the next on the critically endangered list for reasons very similar to the previously mentioned vultures. Locals hunt them for trade, they consume poisoned carcasses and have experienced habitat destruction. Poaching is also a concern and it is believed that they are killed so that elephant and rhino poachers will not be discovered when the vulture tries to feed on their carcasses. They have suffered a 97% population decline.
Leaving the critically endangered classification, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is also on the list as endangered. The IUCN estimates around 8,000 remaining Lappet-faced vultures in Africa and a possible 500 in the Middle East. This bird prefers arid lands like savannas, deserts, and open mountain slopes. Breeding results in a solitary egg which is a challenge for increasing the population size. They have also been affected by habitat loss and poisoning. Their population is rapidly declining.
The Cape Vulture is the last on the list of nearly extinct African vultures. It is also experiencing a declining population everywhere except South Africa where small pockets of this bird have increased in size. Powerlines face a dangerous threat for the Cape vulture and conservation efforts are ongoing.
Important Role of Vultures
Vultures are a vital part of healthy ecosystems, and their decline will have drastic effects on other plant and animal species. People will not escape the detrimental result of a disappearing vulture population. Vultures are considered part of a natural garbage pickup crew and by eating dead and rotting animal meat, they are helping prevent the spread of disease. One example of this is that feral dogs are attracted to the carcasses thus increasing cases of rabies. These birds, while not wildly popular, are as important as every other piece of their ecosystems. If governments do not work together to help conserve their population, humans could soon be living in a world without vultures.