Africa’s largest and most recognisable birds of prey – vultures – face a grim future, according to the latest assessment carried out by BirdLife International for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, on behalf of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Six of the continent’s 11 vulture species have had their global threat status upgraded to a higher level, meaning that they face a very real danger of extinction. This includes the hooded, Rüppell’s and white-backed vultures that have been up-listed from Endangered to Critically Endangered, the white-headed vulture that goes from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered, and the Cape and lappet-faced vultures whose listings have changed from Vulnerable to Endangered.
The main causes of the drop in African vulture populations are thought to be indiscriminate poisonings where the birds are drawn to poisoned baits, use of vulture body parts in traditional medicine, and deliberate targeting by poachers as the presence of vultures can alert authorities to illegally killed big game carcasses.
Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Africa Programme Director, said: “As well as robbing the African skies of one of their most iconic and spectacular groups of birds, the rapid decline of the continent’s vultures has profound consequences for its people – as vultures help stop the spread of diseases by cleaning up rotting carcasses. However, now we are becoming aware of the sheer scale of the declines involved, there is still just enough time for conservationists to work with law-makers, faith-based organisations, government agencies and local people, to make sure there is a future for these magnificent scavengers.”
Worldwide, 40 more bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction in the 2015 Red List. Besides the vultures, these include many wading shorebirds, and other iconic species like Atlantic puffin, European turtle-dove and helmeted hornbill.
Conversely, 23 species have been downgraded to lower threat categories. In some cases, this reflects a better understanding and more accurate picture of how they are faring, but some species have undergone remarkable recoveries as a result of conservation action, including the Seychelles warbler and Chatham petrel.
The Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the conservation status of plant and animal species, and BirdLife International is the official authority for birds.