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Decline of the Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus across its African range


Abstract and Figures

The Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus is not currently listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, yet recent email discussions amongst a group of African raptor experts suggests this species may be in rapid decline. Information was solicited from raptor experts, as well as from published and unpublished reports, bird atlases, and individual sightings. No data was obtained for 8% of countries where the Hooded Vulture occurs and the value of the data obtained for the remaining countries varied widely in quality. Despite the variation in data quality, trends from each African region suggest dramatic population declines (mean 62%; range 45–77%) over the past 40–50 years. Some declines were documented in 20 years or less, indicating declines might be occurring rapidly in some areas. The major threats include poisoning, illegal trade for traditional medicine and bushmeat, and persecution. Based on quantitative rates of declines for each region, a revised population estimate for the species is a maximum of 197 000 individuals. We recommend that the Hooded Vulture is uplisted to Endangered under the IUCN Red List criteria.
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OSTRICH 2011, 82(2): 101–113
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doi: 10.2989/00306525.2011.603464
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Large declines of the Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus
across its African range
DL Ogada1,2* and R Buij3
1 The Peregrine Fund, 5668 West Flying Hawk Lane, Boise, Idaho 83709, USA
2 National Museums of Kenya, Ornithology Section, Box 40658, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya
3 Institute of Environmental Sciences, Leiden University, Einsteinweg 2, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
* Corresponding author, e-mail:
The Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus is not currently listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, yet recent
email discussions amongst a group of African raptor experts suggests this species may be in rapid decline. Information was
solicited from raptor experts, as well as from published and unpublished reports, bird atlases, and individual sightings. No
data was obtained for 8% of countries where the Hooded Vulture occurs and the value of the data obtained for the remaining
countries varied widely in quality. Despite the variation in data quality, trends from each African region suggest dramatic
population declines (mean 62%; range 45–77%) over the past 40–50 years. Some declines were documented in 20 years
or less, indicating declines might be occurring rapidly in some areas. The major threats include poisoning, illegal trade for
traditional medicine and bushmeat, and persecution. Based on quantitative rates of declines for each region, a revised
population estimate for the species is a maximum of 197 000 individuals. We recommend that the Hooded Vulture is uplisted
to Endangered under the IUCN Red List criteria.
The Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus is an African
endemic that is currently a species of Least Concern
based on the 2010 IUCN Red List (BirdLife International
2009). Brown (1971) described the species as one of the
commonest, in places the commonest, vulture in Africa.
However, recent email discussions among African raptor
experts via an online African raptor forum (africanraptors@, as well as recent published and
unpublished reports, suggest that the species might require
upgrading on the Red List owing to recent population
declines particularly in East, West and southern Africa.
The Hooded Vulture occurs throughout much of sub-
Saharan Africa with the exception of heavily forested areas
in central Africa (Figure 1). It is scarce in southern Africa
with concentrations in the Okavango Delta, Hwange and
regions along the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe and Kruger
National Park (Mundy 1997). It is a migrant in Djibouti and
Swaziland and a vagrant in Morocco (African Bird Club and
Dowsett 2007–2010).
The Hooded Vulture is a versatile scavenger that occupies
a variety of habitats including deserts, forests, savanna and
urban areas. North of the equator it is a human commensal
that is often associated with rubbish dumps and slaughter-
houses in urban areas where it can gather in large numbers.
This close relationship with man has enabled it to increase
in numbers as it lacks competition from other vultures in
urban environments (Anderson 1999). However, its close
association with man has resulted in its overexploitation for
food and traditional medicines predominantly in West Africa
(Anderson 1999, Sodeinde and Soewu 1999).
South of the equator the Hooded Vulture is more solitary
and is largely found in conservation areas where it relies on
natural food for most of its diet (Anderson 1999). Throughout
its range it feeds on scraps, offal, faeces, carcass remnants,
and sometimes on insects (Zimmerman et al. 1996). The
Hooded Vulture is sedentary, it nests and roosts on trees,
and it can occur in more forested areas than any of the
other African vultures.
The current classification of the Hooded Vulture as a
species of Least Concern is based on its extremely large
range, apparently stable population trend and its very large
population size, estimated at 200 000–330 000 individuals
(Anderson 1999, BirdLife International 2009).
In 2009 a Raptor ‘Black List’ for Africa was established
that represents an important first step towards attaining a
fully fledged, consensual and credible Regional Red List.
This ‘species to watch’ list includes species that cannot
endure the longer process of accumulating sufficient data
for a proper Regional Red List assessment and may require
immediate attention. Crucially, such species may fail to be
red-flagged by the global Red List. Under this regional ’Black
List’, the Hooded Vulture was assessed as Near Threatened
in West Africa and Vulnerable in southern Africa. It was not
listed for Central and East Africa (Githiru et al. 2009).
Material and methods
Data on trends of Hooded Vulture populations across Africa
was solicited informally through an online forum specific to
African raptors. Although the forum is open to anyone with
Ogada and Buij102
an interest in African raptors, respondents tend to be those
with many years of field experience studying raptors and
most have published widely in both regional and interna-
tional scientific journals. In addition, a literature search was
conducted for published papers and reports.
The value of the information gathered varied consid-
erably from country to country. Quantifying changes
in population size can take the form of: (1) raptor road
counts several years apart, (2) specific population
monitoring, (3) changes in reporting or occupancy rates
from atlas mapping and (4) presence/absence data for
specific locations. The following description is of the
relative value of the information obtained and progresses
from the most to the least valuable. In countries that had
a range of information available (Kenya, South Africa and
Uganda), we reported only the most valuable information
Political boundary
Migratory range
Medium–large declines
Suspected declines
Low–no declines
Unknown declines
Value of information
Medium high
Medium low
Figure 1: Hooded Vulture range, population trends and value of information from range countries
Ostrich 2011, 82(2): 101–113 103
that showed population trends over long periods. Scientific
papers published in the last decade and that showed
country-wide population trends specific for the Hooded
Vulture were the most valuable (Burkina Faso, Mali,
Niger and Uganda). Information from long-term bird atlas
projects with large datasets (Malawi, Tanzania, South
Africa and Zambia) and unpublished trend data for large
areas of the country (Kenya) was also highly valuable.
Recent scientific papers that showed declines in specific
areas of the country or habitats (Botswana, Cameroon
and Kenya) were also valuable. Unpublished reports and
data that were comparable to survey data undertaken
in the 1960s and 1970s (Cameroon and Uganda) were
similarly very useful. Information from published papers
that did not contain trend information, but that contained
country-wide population estimates (Mozambique and
Namibia) was useful. Unpublished reports were generally
from raptor surveys undertaken within the past decade
and have not yet been repeated (Ethiopia, Guinea and
Tanzania) or from multiple surveys in a protected area
(Benin and Nigeria). Recent population estimates based
on occupancy rates in country-wide atlas data (Ghana)
and population estimates from published reports from
particular regions of the country made prior to 2000
(Chad, Lesotho and Sudan) were moderately useful. Data
from bird atlas projects with small datasets (Rwanda and
Niger) and country-wide presence/absence data (Angola
and Zimbabwe) were also moderately useful. Published
checklists from particular areas of a country (Central
African Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast,
Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Togo) and individual
sightings (The Gambia, Liberia and Somalia) were used
to show distributions or presence/absence data for
specific locations.
Qualitative data included expert opinion surveys from
individuals working in specific countries (Burkina Faso,
Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Tanzania).
Also included were threats to vultures where published
papers or other information was available (Botswana,
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya,
Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South
Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe).
A total of 35 individuals emailed information about the
status of Hooded Vultures in 22 countries. For three
countries we were unable to obtain any information or
sightings apart from the vulture appearing as a resident
on the country’s checklist (Table 1). These countries are
mostly characterised as countries experiencing recent civil
wars (Figure 1).
West Africa
Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Burkina Faso
was included in the survey by Thiollay (2007a) where
he estimated declines for Hooded Vultures of 31% in
protected areas, though he mentioned that the largest
and least disturbed part of the park was in Benin, so this
may be an overestimate for this region. Green and Sayer
(1979) reported that the Hooded Vulture was a common,
year-round resident in Pendjari National Park. F Lemaire
and B Dowsett visited Parc W and Pendjari National Park
in February 2010 and reported that Hooded Vultures were
widespread in small numbers in both parks, and there was
a roost of several dozen in woodland near the hotel in
Pendjari (F Lemaire and B Dowsett pers. comm.).
Claffey (1995) reported that the birds were frequently
seen year-round in riparian areas in the Bétérou area. F
Lemaire and B Dowsett (pers. comm.) visited the Bétérou
area in February 2009 where they found a dozen birds near
the village of Ouari Maro, including a pair at a nest in a
Ceiba sp.
F Lemaire, B Dowsett, and S and J Merz (pers. comm.)
reported Hooded Vultures near Cobli (on the road to
Tanguiéta from the Togo border), at Tanguiéta, and at
Natitingou. They did not report any birds in the south of the
country, though records from neighbouring Togo suggest
they should be present there.
Burkina Faso
Hooded Vultures (together with Black Kites) are more
commonly and permanently associated with human settle-
ments and refuse than with natural savannas and food
resources (carcasses). They are usually the species most
positively associated with densely inhabited areas (Thiollay
2006b). Hooded Vultures were significantly more abundant
in cultivated and peripheral areas than in protected areas
(Thiollay 2007b). Though not significant, Thiollay (2006b)
reported a 30% decline in the occurrence of Hooded
Vultures and Black Kites in natural savanna areas from
surveys conducted in 1972 and resurveyed in 2002. He
noted that vultures may be declining through incidental
poisonings targeting jackals and hyenas, and indiscriminate
use of pesticides, rodenticides and veterinary medicines
(Thiollay 2006b).
The Hooded Vulture remains numerous in central
Burkina Faso, but has declined dramatically in the south-
west, almost disappearing from Bobodioulasso where
hundreds were seen 30 years ago. There were reports of
the slaughter of Hooded Vultures for food and there is a
trade in smoked vulture meat from Niger to Nigeria. The use
of vultures for traditional medicines and sorcery is common
and it is routine to see their body parts on sale at markets
(Thiollay 2006a).
According to P Weesie (pers. comm.): ‘I first visited
Ouagadougou in 1983 when there were thousands of
Hooded Vultures there, which remained the case until
approximately 2005. On every street corner, especially
near markets, there were several tens. Also tens of nests
were in a large forest in the city. Near the abbatoir there
were always 100 or more individuals. The past few years
things have changed for the worst and Hooded Vultures
have greatly declined in Ouagadougou. The reason is
unknown. In March 2010 there were still approximately 10
birds at a regular site near the market where I used to visit.
In November 2010 none were seen. In Koudougou meat
of Hooded Vultures is apparently sold mixed with chicken
meat, but this has not been confirmed. In the villages in the
south Hooded Vultures are apparently still fairly common
according to reports received from local researchers.’
Ogada and Buij104
Country Country
Unpublished report
or trend data
References for papers, reports
and unpublished data
Angola X X Dean (2001)
Benin X X X Green and Sayer (1979), Claffey (1995), Thiollay
Botswana X X X Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr (2000),
Borello (2004), BirdLife Botswana (2008),
Hancock (2009, 2010)
Burkina Faso X X X X Thiollay (2006a, 2006b, 2007b)
Burundi X
Cameroon X X X X X Thiollay (2001), RB (unpublished data)
Central African Republic X X Carroll (1988), Bretagnolle (1993)
Chad X X Scholte (1998)
Democratic Republic of Congo X
Eritrea X
Ethiopia X X X Dellelegn and Abdu (2010)
The Gambia X X
Ghana X X X X X Mundy (2000), Lemaire and Dowsett (unpub-
lished data)
Guinea X X X Richards (1982), Walsh (1987), Halleux (1994),
Rondeau et al. (2008)
Guinea-Bissau X X Hazevoet (1996)
Ivory Coast X X X X X Demey and Fishpool (1991), JM Thiollay (pers.
comm. in Mundy et al. 1992), Salewski (2000),
Rainey and Lachenaud (2002), JM Thiollay
(pers. obs. in Thiollay 2006a)
Kenya X X X X Zimmerman et al. (1996), Ogada and Keesing
(2010), Ogada et al. (2010), Virani et al. (2011),
D Fisher (unpublished data)
Lesotho X X Maphisa (2001), Vogeley (2004)
Liberia X X
Malawi X X Long (1960), Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett
Mali X X X Thiollay (2006a)
Mauritania X X Gee (1984)
Mozambique X X X Clancy (1971), Parker (1999, 2004)
Namibia X X Bridgeford (2004), Simmons and Brown (in press)
Niger X X X X Giraudoux et al. (1988), Thiollay (2006a), Niger
Bird DataBase via J Brouwer
Nigeria X X X Crick and Marshall (1981), Sodeinde and Soewu
(1999), Nikolaus (2001), Rondeau and Thiollay
(2004), T Talatu (unpublished report)
Rwanda X X
Senegal X X X X Rodwell et al. (1996)
Sierra Leone X X X Harding and Harding (1982), Harkrider (1993)
Somalia X X
South Africa X X X X Boshoff et al. (1983), Brooke (1984), Tarboton
and Allan (1984), Mundy (1997), South African
Bird Database Project 2 via D Harebottle,
Barnes (2000)
Sudan X X X Wilson (1982)
Tanzania X X X X Tanzanian Bird Atlas via N Baker, Njilima et al.
(unpublished report), M Virani (unpublished
Togo X X X Browne (1980), Cheke and Walsh (1980)
Uganda X X X X Ssemmanda and Pomeroy (2010), Pomeroy
(2010), D Pomeroy (unpublished data)
Zambia X X Dowsett et al. (2008)
Zimbabwe X X Hartley et al. (1996), Mundy (1997)
a All country checklists were from the African Bird Club and Dowsett (2007–2010)
b Recent sighting data was obtained from: Benin – B Dowsett, F Lemaire, J and S Merz; Burkina Faso – P Weesie; Ethiopia – M Ogada; The
Gambia –; Ghana – F Lemaire and B Dowsett; Ivory Coast – B Ahon; Kenya – W Bol, K Kara, J Karanja, C Kariuki, C Kendall,
JK Ndung’u, D Ogada, F Reid, M Virani; Liberia – T Ewert; Mali – M Crickmore, B Dowsett, F Lemaire; Mozambique – M Wilson; Niger –
M Crickmore; Rwanda – Rwanda Bird Atlas via M Claassen; Senegal – W Mullié; Sierra Leone – T Ewert; Somalia (Somaliland) – C Cohen;
South Africa – A Botha, C Murn; Sudan – F Grossman; Tanzania – J Wolstencroft; Togo – F Lemaire and B Dowsett; Uganda – P Usher
Table 1: Sources of information for the 37 countries where Hooded Vultures are resident
Ostrich 2011, 82(2): 101–113 105
The Gambia
In December 2009 sightings were recorded at Kombo
Beach Hotel, Kombo North; Senegambia Hotel, Kololi;
Marakissa and Cammalo area (
v3/westafrica.php?c=9). There is insufficient information to
establish a population trend.
F Lemaire and B Dowsett, who have been working in the
country since 2004, report that it is one of the commonest
raptors in Ghana, and the commonest in towns within the
rain forest zone. It is both an abundant commensal species
and a common raptor in game reserves (Mole). There are
two populations: one throughout the forest zone and forest/
transition zone in the south-centre where it is very common;
and smaller numbers in the far north, from Mole to the
Burkina Faso border, including Bawku in the north-east
and the Black Volta in the north-west; even in the north it
is mostly commensal. Altogether it occurs in 59 of 93 atlas
squares, i.e. in 63% of the country and there is no reason
to suppose that it has decreased anywhere (F Lemaire and
B Dowsett unpublished data).
Mundy (2000) reported a ‘cloud’ of 500 birds near the
slaughterhouse and meat market at Kumasi in 1996. There
were also dozens of birds at the old slaughterhouse in Accra
(Mundy 2000).
Rondeau et al. (2008) reported that healthy vulture popula-
tions were still present in the country. In their recent nation-
wide survey, Hooded Vultures were the most commonly
occurring raptor. All Hooded Vultures were found in towns
and rural areas; none were observed in protected areas
(Rondeau et al. 2008). However, there are no previous
baseline surveys with which to draw comparisons. Halleux
(1994) reported them as common in the eastern part of the
country. Walsh (1987) reported them as common in larger
settlements from Siguiri to Beyla. Richards (1982) reported
them as very common in Conakry City.
In coastal regions Hooded Vultures were reported as
common at Bisseau, Ilha de Bolhama, Ilha de Bubaque,
Ilha de Rubane and north-east of Safin in 1986 (Hazevoet
1996). There are no comparable recent surveys.
Ivory Coast
Eating Hooded Vultures has resulted in local extinctions
(JM Thiollay pers. obs. in Thiollay 2006a) and the species
has greatly declined in the north of the country as a result
of hunting pressure (JM Thiollay pers obs. in Mundy et al.
1992). Demey and Fishpool (1991) stated that it remains
common in at least some of the towns (Agnibilekrou and
Abengourou) in the east of the country near the border
with Ghana. B Ahon (pers. comm.) further confirmed that
there is a small population (30 individuals) in the south-
east of the country on the border with Ghana near the
coast. Salewski (2000) recorded them as frequently
seen resident breeders in Comoé National Park. Rainey
and Lachenaud (2002) reported them as frequent
around Aboisso.
During the past four years (2006–2010), no Hooded
Vultures were observed in Monrovia (T Ewert pers. comm.).
There is insufficient data to establish any trend.
Thiollay (2006a) reported that Hooded Vultures declined
dramatically in Mali, almost disappearing from Segou and
Mopti where hundreds were seen 30 years ago. The vulture
once thrived in every town and village but was surprisingly
scarce throughout large sections of the country (Thiollay
There have been no sightings of Hooded Vultures in
Bamako or Sokolo since 2003 and 1998, respectively. The
most recent sightings include six individuals seen in 2003
in Bandiagara (Dogon area) and two seen between Gao
and Douentza in 2004 (M Crickmore pers. comm.). Despite
spending 11 weeks in the country (6 weeks in 2002 and 5
weeks in 2004), F Lemaire and B Dowsett (pers. comm.)
did not see any Hooded Vultures in the south, nor during a
few days spent in the Sahel, near Mopti, and in the Gourma
(north of Douentza) and as far east as Gao.
Gee (1984) recorded Hooded Vultures in the south-west
near the Senegal River and noted that they do not move
far north of the river even during the rains. There are no
comparable recent surveys.
Thiollay (2006a) reported that Hooded Vultures declined
dramatically in Niger, almost disappearing from towns
such as Niamey where hundreds were seen 30 years ago.
The vulture once thrived in every town and village but was
surprisingly scarce throughout large sections of the country
(Thiollay 2006a). Large numbers used to migrate in the
rainy season up to the southern Aïr Mountains and then
back to the south from November onwards (Thiollay 1977).
Although there is significant variation in observer effort in
time and space, data from the Niger Bird DataBase suggests
a reduction in numbers. During 1990–1998, 10% of observa-
tions of Hooded Vultures were of 10 or more individuals,
compared to only 5% of observations during 2002–2008.
Further, the average number of Hooded Vultures per
observation was 4.9 during 1990–1998, compared to 3.5
vultures per observation during 2002–2008 (Niger Bird
Giraudoux et al. (1988) noted it was common year-round
in the south and south-west of the country, particularly in
Parc W and along the Niger River.
In their report on the avifauna of Yankari Game Reserve,
Crick and Marshall (1981) state that the Hooded Vulture
was common throughout the reserve in all months and
had been recorded breeding during the month of January.
T Talatu (unpublished report) recorded only one individual
during 10 survey months in 2007 in the game reserve.
However, Talatu added that there was previously a camp
with >700 individuals within the reserve and its removal
may account for the drop in numbers of Hooded Vultures.
Ogada and Buij106
She also reported that vultures were hunted in large
quantities in the early 1980s for ‘commercial purposes’
and people have been arrested with a sack of vultures to
be roasted for food. She further speculates that human
consumption of vultures may be one of the reasons for their
decline (T Talatu unpublished report). Hooded Vultures
were frequently seen in the Lake Chad Basin of north-
eastern Nigeria in 1997–2000 (Gustafsson et al. 2003).
A study of the traditional medicine trade in Nigeria by
Sodeinde and Soewu (1999) showed the Hooded Vulture
was the most frequently traded bird and was offered by 36%
of all traders surveyed (n = 64) in five south-western towns.
The head is used to protect against witches and the whole
body may be used for good fortune (Sodeinde and Soewu
1999). Another study of the fetish trade in Nigeria indicated
that Hooded Vultures were the most common vulture on
sale. Although their availability in the markets may likely be
more indicative of their abundance in the region compared
to large vultures, which were more in demand but difficult to
obtain (Nikolaus 2001).
The Hooded Vulture is also eaten for food by numerous
communities and the birds have practically disappeared
from numerous towns and villages where they were formerly
abundant (Anon. 1997, V Nnanna pers. comm. in Rondeau
and Thiollay 2004).
A raptor researcher in Senegal reported: ‘My personal
impression is that both Hooded and African White-backed
have declined over the past 20 years, both of which are
more strongly associated with human habitations. There is
still a small population of Hoodeds in urban Dakar, which
seems to be much smaller than it was 15–20 years ago.
In the past I rarely saw more than 10–15% hooded on
fresh carcasses, this seems to be down to
5–10%, but
occasionally good numbers of all vulture species are seen
in central Senegal, so declines and shifts in community
structure may differ regionally’ (W Mullie pers. comm.).
The species was recorded as ‘rare’ in Parc National des
Oiseaux du Djoudj as it was only recorded three times
during 25 expeditions over a 10-year survey period
(Rodwell et al. 1996).
Sierra Leone
Harding and Harding (1982) reported Hooded Vultures
were frequently sighted in riparian areas in the Kilimi area
in the north-west of the country. The birds were common in
farm-bush habitat on the campus of Njala University College
(Harkrider 1993). During JanuaryMarch 2007, F Lemaire
and B Dowsett (pers. comm.) visited Gola Forest for six
weeks and reported Hooded Vultures to be common as a
commensal species, including the town of Kenema where
several were seen during multiple visits, and Bo, which was
crossed enroute. T Ewert (pers. comm.) reported that there
is still a population in Freetown as well as in some of the
regional capitals.
It was recorded as a ‘commoner’ species by Cheke and
Walsh (1980). Browne (1980) did not mention any Hooded
Vulture sightings from Lome. F Lemaire and B Dowsett
(pers. comm.) spent a few days crossing the country
twice in late February 2010. They did not see any in 2 d
spent in Kéran National Park in the north, a park that is
virtually empty of game. While driving south from Kara
they recorded Hooded Vultures at Soutouboua and in the
Kpalimé/Klouto area where they spent 3 d. They noted that
it could be common on the Ghana border, as it is common
on the Ghana side, between 8°30 and 6° N (F Lemaire and
B Dowsett pers. comm.).
Central Africa
Thiollay (2001) recorded a 67% decline in the mostly urban
Hooded Vulture in northern Cameroon from road surveys
originally conducted in 1973 and resurveyed in 2000. He
reported a much lower number of Hooded Vultures during
stops in towns and villages, often by an order of magnitude.
Food availability alone could not explain why Hooded
Vultures virtually vanished from towns (Thiollay 2001).
Recent road survey data (2006–2009) from the three
northern provinces (RB unpublished data) suggests that
when compared to Thiollay’s 1973 data, Hooded Vulture
declines were similar to the declines reported in Thiollay
(2001), suggesting that Hooded Vulture populations in
northern Cameroon weren’t any worse off during 2006–2009
than they were in 2000.
During the past decade, the trade in vulture heads for
witchcraft and sorcery that stems from Nigeria has probably
had the biggest effect on declining vulture populations, and
more recently on Hooded Vultures (RB pers. comm.). In
November 2010 two dealers were found with 12 heads and
several feet of Hooded Vultures in the city of Maroua. They
were selling the heads at €3,80 (US$5). In December 2010,
one dealer had a total of 10–12 heads of Hooded Vultures
on sale in the city of Garoua (B Mohamadou pers. comm.).
A total of 4–5 dealers in vulture parts were present. A set of
one head and two legs were selling at €23–31 (US$30–40).
Buyers would use the parts for traditional medicine. The
dealers in Maroua apparently did not have regular customers,
once or twice per year a buyer would show up; the demand
was higher (unclear to what degree) in Garoua. Heads and
meat would often decompose before a buyer would arrive,
although they were dried and stored in plastic bags. The
dealers in Maroua would not present information on the
suppliers or how they obtained the Hooded Vultures, but
stated that some vultures were picked up dead in the streets
of Maroua, especially during the wet season (RB pers.
comm.). Dealers in Garoua stated that vultures were killed
using WormForce, a product containing carbofuran (3%)
and produced in Nigeria. This product is sold locally in small
bags at €0.40 (US$0.52) a piece. Nigerians in Cameroon
state that Hooded Vultures are served as chickens in some
Nigerian restaurants (RB in litt. 2010).
Central African Republic
Carroll (1988) reported Hooded Vultures were common
resident breeders in the Bamingui area and in the Manovo-
Gounda-St Floris and Bamingui and Bangoran national
parks. Bregtagnolle (1993) reported that Hooded Vultures
were common resident breeders in the Vakaga Prefecture.
There are no comparable recent surveys.
Ostrich 2011, 82(2): 101–113 107
Scholte (1998) recorded Hooded Vultures as the most
widespread and probably the most common vulture in the
Lake Chad Basin. Sightings were confined to human settle-
ments, e.g. in towns and camps of nomadic pastoralists.
Populations were estimated for the Lake Chad Basin, which
includes a large section of Niger and smaller sections of
Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, of at
least 20 000 birds (Scholte 1998).
Democratic Republic of Congo
No information was obtained.
East Africa
No information was obtained.
No information was obtained.
The first raptor road surveys were undertaken in February
2010 within a 200 km radius of Addis Ababa. Hooded
Vultures were seen on all of the 18 routes except one and
on average there were 32 individuals per 100 km over 1 117
km. They were almost always associated with towns and
villages (Dellelegn and Abdu 2010).
The Hooded Vulture is a species that has been and
continues to be in steep decline in Kenya. It was previously
widespread in most national parks, game reserves and
towns (Zimmerman et al. 1996). Nationwide raptor surveys
in February 2010 and 2011 did not record a single Hooded
Vulture over 2 259 km despite surveying suitable habitat
(Ogada et al. 2010, DLO unpublished data). Annual data
from three-week nationwide bird tours have shown that the
number of days Hooded Vultures were seen declined by
40% from 1989–1999 to 2000–2010. Even more striking,
the maximum daily count declined by 73% during the same
time periods (D Fisher unpublished data). However, a recent
expedition to northern Kenya recorded pairs of Hooded
Vultures at most small settlements that were slaughtering
camels around the Chalbi Desert (F Reid pers. comm.).
Virani et al. (2011) reported Hooded Vulture declines of
62% in and around the Masai Mara National Reserve from
1976 to 2005. There was a shift in distribution with Hooded
Vultures previously using more degraded areas far from
the reserve as well as Masai Mara National Reserve itself
during the early surveys, but then shifting to primarily within
the reserve in the recent surveys (Virani et al. 2011).
In Laikipia District in central Kenya, current data show
the species represents 1% of vultures at carcasses
(n = 1 631 vulture observations; DLO unpublished data).
Carcass counts at Amboseli National Park (n = 1 291) and
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, indicate Hooded
Vultures made up 10% of vulture species at carcasses
in similar savanna habitat (Anderson and Horwitz 1979,
Petrides 1959). The species was not recorded during three
years of raptor surveys in 2001–2003 (Ogada and Keesing
2010). Wright (1960) described the Hooded Vulture as
the most common vulture in Nairobi, Tsavo and Serengeti
National Parks.
Since 2007 there have been 366 vultures in Kenya killed
by poisoning (J Clark unpublished data). This number is
most likely an underestimate of the actual total. Poisoning
of wildlife remains the biggest threat to vultures in Kenya
(D Ogada 2010).
Recent reports indicate Hooded Vultures are likely present
throughout the year and can be found in Ruhengeri and
Kinigi (M Claassen, Rwanda Bird Atlas). There is insufficient
information to establish a population trend.
A birding tour to Somaliland in 2010 recorded two Hooded
Vultures near Burco Town, though Egyptian Vultures were
common in the northern towns (C Cohen pers. comm.). There
is insufficient information to establish a population trend.
Wilson (1982) wrote that all species appear to have
undergone a drastic reduction in numbers throughout
most of Darfur. He further noted that no vultures were ever
present at the Zalingei slaughterhouse throughout late
1976 and the whole of 1977, nor were any seen during the
several weekly village slaughtering (Wilson 1982).
F Grossman (pers. comm.) recently reported Hooded
Vultures as being very common in Juba.
According to N Baker (pers. comm.) this bird is doing
far better inside protected areas but there are nearly
200 000 km2 of these. It has never been common in the
northern Rift Valley. It’s not a dry country species. It has
never been a city bird apart from a few in Bukoba and a few
around Pugu Station south-west of Dar es Salaam where
the cattle (always a few dead ones) are off-loaded from the
trains. A population estimate from the Tanzanian Bird Atlas
Project is 10 000–15 000 birds based on 1 857 records
(N Baker pers. comm.).
Raptor surveys conducted in February 2010 covered
1 481 km to the south and north-west of Arusha and
recorded seven individuals, or 0.5 individuals per 100 km, all
in grassland protected areas, none in settlements or agricul-
tural areas (Njilima et al. 2010). In some protected areas
(e.g. Maswa Game Reserve) and unprotected areas human
persecution of vultures has been increasing in recent years.
Vultures are being killed for their body parts for ingredients
of superstitious traditional cures (Njilima et al. 2010).
Raptor surveys conducted in February 2008 in northern
Tanzania covered 1 328 km east of Arusha (76 km in
protected areas vs 1 252 km in unprotected areas) where
no Hooded Vultures were seen. Surveys covered 1 123 km
west of Arusha (708 km in protected areas vs 415 km in
unprotected areas) where 10 Hooded Vultures were seen in
protected areas and 11 in unprotected areas. In all, 0.4 individ-
uals per 100 km were seen (M Virani unpublished data).
They appear to have become increasingly restricted to
the larger protected areas and are rarely seen anywhere
east of Mto wa Mbu, which is in the Rift Valley just east
Ogada and Buij108
of Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti protected areas
(J Wolstencroft pers. comm.).
Annual raptor surveys from 2007–2010 show large declines
(78%) of Hooded Vultures compared to similar road surveys
conducted by Leslie Brown in 1967–1968 (D Pomeroy
unpublished data). Hooded Vulture numbers in Kampala
increased steadily from 1973–2005, but suffered a 38%
decline from 2005 to 2009, which has been attributed to
habitat modifications caused by construction (Ssemmanda
and Pomeroy 2010) and recent improvements in abbatoir
hygiene and rubbish disposal (D Pomeroy pers. comm.).
Nationwide raptor surveys conducted in February
2010 showed an average of 3.9 individuals per 100 km
(D Pomeroy 2010).
Southern Africa
It occurs on the western coast, but it is likely more common
and certainly underreported. There are no breeding records
(Dean 2001). There is insufficient information to establish a
population trend.
The Hooded Vulture is listed as a species of Conservation
Concern, which means it is ‘potentially or actually threat-
ened based on our current state of knowledge. Some of
these species are recognised as being globally threatened,
but others have undergone declines within the Southern
African region and may be under threat in Botswana’
(BirdLife Botswana 2008).
Its distribution in Botswana is limited to the northern part
of the country that is largely protected in the form of parks,
reserves and management areas. The species was not
recorded in any road counts in 2008 despite driving through
suitable habitat (BirdLife Botswana 2008). Only five breeding
records have been recorded, the most recent in 1994, despite
the bird being plentiful in the north (Borello 2004).
Recently, intentional poisoning of vultures has been
occurring where poachers target vultures because they
expose the location of their activities when they arrive to
feed on the carcass. Several incidents have occurred in
wildlife management areas adjacent to the Okavango Delta,
including the Okavango Delta Important Bird Area. Eighty-five
vultures, including Hooded Vultures, are known to have been
killed in three separate incidents (Hancock 2009, 2010).
Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr (2000) conducted
road surveys from 1991–1995 over 55 577 km and found
that Hooded Vultures in Botswana were most abundant at
the interface between protected and unprotected areas.
Though their numbers were relatively high inside protected
areas where they averaged 36.5 birds km1, <100 km from a
protected area boundary they averaged 4 388 km bird1, and
none were seen >100 km from a protected area boundary
(Herremans and Herremans-Tonnoeyr 2000).
Hooded Vultures were not recorded during a survey of
Quthing District in 2003, where only Bearded and Cape
Vultures were recorded (Vogeley 2004). An expedition
in 1998 found that there was considerable persecution
of vultures including shooting and especially poisoning
(Maphisa 2001). There is insufficient information to establish
a population trend.
Hooded Vultures are still fairly common in the north and
smaller numbers in the south-east (Dowsett-Lemaire and
Dowsett 2006), but the species has decreased locally. In
the Chiromo area a sharp decline was already noted in the
1950s (Long 1960). It became rare in Lengwe National Park
in the 1980s with the last two records in 1995 and 2002. The
decline in wild mammal populations and dipping of cattle
were mentioned as possible causes for the decline.
There are an estimated 50 breeding pairs and 150 individ-
uals in Mozambique. The bush meat trade is considered
the biggest threat owing to unsustainable illegal hunting
of mammalian prey species (Parker 2004). It was formerly
widespread in southern Mozambique (Clancy 1971), but
has become rare and an estimated five pairs occurred in
southern Mozambique in the 1990s (Parker 1999). In June
2008 two Hooded Vultures were recorded at Bilibiza in the
north of the country (M Wilson pers. comm.).
In the Namibia red data book Simmons and Brown (in
press) report that: ‘The Hooded vulture is considered a
Rare and Peripheral species. There are no known breeding
records (it may be overlooked) and on raptor road counts
in northeast Namibia it was recorded at very low densities
of 0.1–1.6 birds/1000 km in 80 674 km of road counts
(Jarvis et al. 2001). While it is known to have declined in
southern Africa in recent decades probably through poisons
(Mundy 1997), it is less likely to have been very abundant
in Namibia given its very low reporting rate (1–12%) in the
pristine Etosha NP. Current populations are guesstimated at
a maximum of 500 birds, representing much less than 1% of
the African population, but further research is required.’
Poisoning is the biggest killer of vultures in Namibia,
mostly as a result of poisons targeting problem animals
such as lions, hyenas and jackals (Bridgeford 2004).
South Africa
According to Mundy (1997): ‘The Hooded vulture has
undergone a dramatic contraction of range in recent
times. Though considered to be rare in South Africa, it is
thought to have decreased in the face of persecution and
poisoning (Brooke 1984). It no longer occurs anywhere
in Cape Province apart from occasional sightings in the
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (Boshoff et al. 1983).
There is also evidence that it has decreased to a ‘remnant’
population in the Transvaal (Tarboton and Allan 1984).
Populations estimated for South Africa stand at 50 breeding
pairs (Tarboton and Allan 1984). Very few birds have been
found poisoned (Mundy et al. 1992), but as a naturally rare
and solitary species, poisoned individuals could be easily
overlooked.’ In the 1990s, the South African breeding
population was estimated at 50–100 pairs (Anderson 1990,
Barnes and Tarboton 1998), with at least 64 breeding adults
Ostrich 2011, 82(2): 101–113 109
in the Kruger National Park (Kemp et al. 2001). Hooded
Vultures are relatively common in private game reserves
west of Kruger National Park, but overall breeding density
is low with few breeding records (Roche 2006). It is consid-
ered vulnerable in South Africa with a recent decrease of
c. 10% (Barnes 2000).
Records from the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2
(2007–present) reveal that the Hooded Vulture may not be
as common in the Kruger National Park as it was 20 years
ago and that they are becoming more abundant in the private
game reserves adjacent to Kruger. Overall, the reporting rate
for this species declined in 67% of the atlas grids from where
it was recorded during the first atlas from 1987–1991. This is
compared to an increase in the reporting rate between the
two atlases in only 28% of atlas grids (Harebottle 2010).
Hooded Vultures are found almost throughout and are quite
common along the major rivers (Dowsett et al. 2008). It is not
usually numerous, though larger numbers (6–7) are observed
in the big game reserves. It is not known to have suffered
significant declines in recent years (Dowsett et al. 2008).
It is only common along the Zambezi River where it may be
found at hunters’ camps and offal dumps. It also occurs in
the south-east and in Hwange National Park (Mundy 1997).
Over a ten-year period, at least 434 vultures of five species
were known to have been poisoned (Hartley et al. 1996).
Data from raptor road surveys
A few countries and regions had data available on the
number of Hooded Vultures per 100 km (Table 2) and this
shows that the species has declined between 45–77% in
three African regions, or an average of 62%.
Population estimate
Based upon a mean of 265 000 birds from the estimate of
200 000–330 000 (Anderson 1999, BirdLife International
2009) it is possible to make an estimate of the current
(2010) population by subtracting the estimated percent of
decline for each region. However, since any declines had
likely already begun by 1999 when this population estimate
was first made, it is impossible to know the percent decline
since 1999. As an estimate, only 50% of the actual declines
estimated from Table 2 were used (Table 3). These suggest
that the African population does not exceed 197 000 birds.
Accurately assessing the conservation status of a
widespread African species will always be problematic
owing to the paucity of data available for large regions
of the continent (Brooks and Thompson 2001). For the
Hooded Vulture there was no information obtained from
8% of countries where the bird is resident. In some of these
countries, it is likely there is little information owing to a
lack of capacity and institutions supporting ornithological
research and conservation. Although original requests for
information were made in English, additional requests were
conducted in French and Dutch and therefore it is unlikely
that a language barrier was a significant impediment to
gathering information.
Assessing a species population status is not without a
degree of subjectivity, though we attempted to categorise
information as to its value as objectively as possible, a
comparison on such a wide scale and with such a range of
information requires some individual interpretation of data
and to alleviate such subjectivity we tried to be conserva-
tive in assessing the scale of declines for countries that had
limited data available.
Regional assessments
West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-
Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria,
Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Togo)
In West Africa Hooded Vultures are primarily reported in
towns and villages where they are typically seen foraging
around meat and vegetable markets, and rubbish dumps.
However, because they conspicuously gather in towns, their
numbers in parks and protected areas, though small, may
be underreported.
Data on population trends available for three countries
in this region all suggest large declines (45%) for this
species, though the declines were uneven and may not
be throughout its entire West African range (Rondeau and
Thiollay 2004, Thiollay 2006a). It is also important to note
that the population trend data was from the Sahelian and
savanna areas and it has been suggested that this may
not be reflective of more forested regions (e.g. Ghana)
where populations appear to be robust (F Lemaire pers.
comm.). However, it is important to note that in countries
with long-term trend data, all have reported large declines.
Additional data from Nigeria also suggests a decline,
especially when combined with the information on the
trade in Hooded Vultures for traditional medicine and food.
A dealer from Nigeria offered to pay €6 100 (US$7 880)
for four Hooded Vulture eggs in northern Cameroon in
2009 (DLO and RB pers. comm.). Most reports from West
Africa mentioned the use of Hooded Vultures for traditional
medicine, witchcraft or food, indicating that there is likely
widespread capture of this bird for these purposes. They
are also relatively easy to capture as they often venture very
close to humans at markets and readily accept meat scraps
provided to them (RB pers. obs.). Reports indicate there is
a significant trade in smoked vulture meat between Niger
or Benin and Nigeria (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). They
further speculate that it is quite possible that the disappear-
ance of this species from many towns and villages in West
Africa is because of pressure for food.
Central Africa (Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad
and Democratic Republic of Congo)
Though the data is limited, it appears that, as in West
Africa, in this region Hooded Vultures show a strong
commensalism with humans and are rarely reported
outside of towns and villages. They also frequently
visit camps of nomadic pastoralists and follow nomadic
pastoralists on their annual displacements (Newby 1979).
Apart from Cameroon, there is no trend information from
this region. Although Scholte (1998) estimated a population
of at least 20 000 birds in the Lake Chad Basin, data from
Ogada and Buij110
northern Cameroon (Thiollay 2001, RB unpublished data)
suggests large declines (to 67%). Hooded Vultures can
still be found in several villages and towns especially in the
far north of Cameroon, and in smaller numbers south to
the Adamaoua province. They are still fairly common, but
gatherings of hundreds are no longer observed. The
largest number in one site is 70–80 Hooded Vultures but
this is exceptional. In 1996 more than 100 Hooded Vultures
died from an unknown cause as some ‘literally fell out
of the trees’ in the town of Maroua (Scholte 1998); now
there are only several tens (30–50) in Maroua (R Buij
unpublished data). Village chiefs and government officials
(regional delegate of Agriculture and Livestock) working
in the livestock industry in northern Cameroon remarked
that the amount of by-product left for vultures at slaughter-
houses has decreased in recent decades. They state that
many remains formerly discarded (stomach, lungs, horns,
skins, hoofs and blood) are now processed for fertilisers
or (animal) food. Hooded Vultures at five slaughterhouses
visited in northern Cameroon were competing for scraps
with numerous domestic dogs (RB pers. obs.).
East Africa (Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda,
Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda)
The Hooded Vulture appears to occupy the greatest
range of habitats in this region. It is a well-known human
commensal in Uganda, Ethiopia and western Kenya. In
Tanzania, it is largely a bird of moist habitats in protected
areas away from human habitation. In Kenya, the bird exists
in semidesert areas of the north-west, national parks, and it
was formerly abundant in western towns.
The situation in East Africa largely mirrors that of other
regions, in that in the two countries with long-term road survey
data there have been large declines (mean 70%) for this
species. Numbers of Hooded Vultures in Ethiopia appear high,
though there is no long-term trend data to draw comparisons.
Southern Africa (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi,
Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe)
In southern Africa the Hooded Vulture is not a strong
commensal with man and it ranges largely in well-devel-
oped woodland, mopane, arid woodland and northern
Kalahari vegetation in areas that are hot, at low altitude,
and semiarid (Mundy 1997). Mundy (1997) suggested that
in southern Africa the Hooded Vulture has undergone a
dramatic contraction of range in recent times. The population
in southern Africa is small and it has been estimated that only
about 1 000 individuals (50–100 pairs) occur in South Africa
(Anderson 1999, Roche 2006). Poisoning is a major threat to
vultures in southern Africa and numerous cases have been
recorded in recent years (Verdoorn et al. 2004).
Africa-wide population estimate
There were a number of assumptions made to arrive at a
population size of less than 197 000 individuals, but this is
the likely upper limit of the population size for this species
and represents a decline of 26% over 1999 estimates
(Anderson 1999).
Country/region Distance
surveyed (km) 1960s to 1980s 2000s Percentage
change Reference
Ethiopia 1 117 32.0 Dellelegn and Abdu (2010)
Kenya 525 (1970s)
3 400 (2000s)
1.8 62% Virani et al. (2011)
Tanzania 1 408 0.5 Njilima et al. (2010)
Uganda 1 472 12.612.91 77% D Pomeroy (unpublished data)
West Africa
(Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso)
8 353 84.4 46.4 45% Thiollay (2006a, 2006b)
Guinea 3 635 33.9 Rondeau et al. (2008)
Northern Cameroon 1 359 53.0 19.4 63% Thiollay (2001)
1 Multiplied by a correction factor of 2.38 to account for the 58% fewer raptors observed when sitting inside a vehicle as opposed to
observing from a roof hatch (Pomeroy et al. in review)
Table 2: The number of Hooded Vultures per 100 km in countries and regions where information is available
Region Estimate of proportion of
total population (%)1
Estimate of
decline (%)2
Estimate of previous
population size
Estimate of current
population size
West 70 22.5 185 500 143 762
Central 18 31.5 47 700 32 674
East 10 38.5 26 500 16 297
South 2 25 5 300 3 975
Total 265 000 196 708
1 Estimates were based on actual numbers reported for southern Africa and guesstimates based on numbers per kilometre from road
surveys and the number of countries in each region
2 Estimates for each region were based on half of those reported in Table 1 and applied region-wide with the assumption that in each region
declines in some countries may be higher and in others lower. The estimate for southern Africa was a guess based on the information
contained in this report
Table 3: Estimate of the total population size of the Hooded Vulture
Ostrich 2011, 82(2): 101–113 111
Data from raptor road surveys
Recent raptor road survey data shows that, although
Hooded Vulture numbers per 100 km are still relatively high
in West Africa and Ethiopia, these should be interpreted
with caution. Surveys conducted between the 1960s and
1980s indicate that the current populations have declined on
average 62% in the last 40–50 years and their abundance is
only high relative to the rest of the region.
Implications for conservation
Although there exists a lack of knowledge about Hooded
Vulture populations across large areas of the continent,
what is clear is that in areas where long-term surveys and
record keeping have occurred, dramatic population declines
(mean 62%, range 45–77%) have been documented in
all areas. This is not to imply that large declines have
occurred in all countries as, even in countries reporting
large declines, e.g. Burkina Faso, the declines have been
uneven. However, this report documents a number of signif-
icant negative impacts to Hooded Vulture populations:
there have been large declines documented across each (1)
region in Africa
though some declines were documented over a span (2)
of 40 years, some declines have been documented in
20 years or less, indicating declines may be occurring
rapidly in some areas
there are well-documented threats to vultures, e.g. (3)
poisoning, use in witchcraft and traditional medicine, in
every African region.
It is important to assess the declines of Hooded Vultures
in the context that it is not a habitat specialist and that it
is highly adaptable to human activities. In fact, Mundy et
al. (1992) noted that because this species is such a close
human commensal ‘it is in for a quite rosy future’. That it is
a generalist scavenger suggests that it may be less prone
to extinction as increased habitat specialisation is highly
correlated with increased likelihood of extinction and 41%
of birds limited to just one habitat type are extinction-prone
(Sekercioglu et al. 2004). That such an adaptable bird is
showing widespread declines should be a cause for alarm
amongst other more specialised scavengers. Finally,
populations that do not live in close association with man
(i.e. in southern Africa) are also declining, suggesting that
there may be multiple reasons for its decline.
Though the threats facing Hooded Vultures vary in
severity across the continent, the main threats to this
species include (1) poisoning, (2) illegal trade, either for
witchcraft or bushmeat, and (3) persecution – malicious
destruction of nests, eggs and young. Climate change may
be a threat, particularly in countries bordering the Sahara
Desert, as this species is better adapted to wetter climates.
However, given the speed and distribution of declines,
climate change is an improbable explanation.
It is anticipated that the data gathered in this report will
support the up-listing of this species to Endangered. Based
on IUCN guidelines, the rate and size of its population
decline fit Criterion A, which is defined as: ‘A reduction in
population size based on any of the following: suspected
population size reduction of 50% over the last 10 years
or three generations, whichever is the longer, where the
reduction or its causes may not have ceased OR may not
be understood OR may not be reversible’ (IUCN 2001).
Based on the data summarised in this report, declines for
this species averaged 62% within the last 20–50 years
(mean 32.3 years). Although the generation length for this
species is unknown, it is approximately 14.5 years based
on comparisons with the slightly smaller Egyptian Vulture
Neophron percnopterus (generation length 14 years) and
the larger White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis and
Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris (generation length
both 16 years) (BirdLife International 2010). Therefore three
generations would equal 43.5 years for this species and the
declines observed largely fall within this timeframe.
In terms of reducing the major threats to this species, all
of which are directly associated with humans, it will require
major social and cultural changes as most of the threats
are related to long-standing beliefs (witchcraft and persecu-
tion) or practices (poisoning predators). The poisoning
menace needs to be addressed by individual governments
as this is a serious issue not just for wildlife, but also for the
environment including humans (Otieno et al. 2010a, 2010b).
Highly toxic pesticides need to be banned if tight govern-
ment controls and restrictions regarding their use cannot
be applied continent-wide and enforced. With regards to
illegal trade in this species, it is likely these will never be
controlled as even trade in the most high-profile animals
(elephants and rhinos) cannot be adequately controlled.
Therefore, only the further decline of this species, and
hence the difficulty in obtaining it, may limit its trade, partic-
ularly for bushmeat. Reducing persecution of this species,
and raptors in general, will require a major effort in terms of
educating people about the benefits of raptors.
It is apparent from conducting this exercise that there is
an urgent need to do large-scale, long-term monitoring of
Hooded and other vulture species, and raptors in general,
throughout the continent. Ideally, this should be on at least
a countrywide scale and repeated at least every five years
given the speed at which declines may be occurring.
Although the overall situation for the conservation of
Hooded Vultures is not good, there are some countries
(e.g. Ethiopia and Guinea) that still have significant popula-
tions of these birds and studies to identify causes of
mortality and population dynamics should be undertaken in
these countries as soon as possible.
There exists a lack of local capacity to conduct raptor
studies in Africa. As raptors are charismatic birds, a lot of
knowledge on raptor populations could be gained through
‘citizen science’, but Africa in particular lacks the capacity
to train and encourage this type of science that is becoming
prevalent in other parts of the world. There needs to be
a greater effort to encourage and train more local people
to study raptors. As raptors are a particularly difficult
group of birds to identify, mentoring of young raptorphiles
requires a large amount of training to become proficient
and this will only happen as a result of the efforts of
dedicated individuals.
Acknowledgements — The compilation of this report is as a result
of many individual contributions from raptor conservationists. James
Wolstencroft initiated online discussions that were the genesis
Ogada and Buij112
of this report. We thank the following people for their contribu-
tions: Bernhard Ahon, Neil Baker, Wouter Bol, Andre Botha, Joost
Brouwer, Marcell Claassen, Callan Cohen, Mary Crickmore, Yilma
Dellelegn, Tom Ewert, David Fisher, Falk Grossman, Pete Hancock,
Doug Harebottle, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement,
Karim Kara, James Karanja, Chege wa Kariuki, Corinne Kendall,
James Kuria, Johannes and Sharon Merz, Bachirou Mohamadou,
Wim Mullié, Campbell Murn, Mordecai Ogada, Derek Pomeroy,
Fiona Reid, Paul Robinson, Rob Simmons, Simon Thomsett, Peter
Usher, Munir Virani, Peter Weesie, Malcolm Wilson and James
Wolstencroft. We are particularly grateful to Françoise Lemaire and
Bob Dowsett for their extensive contributions to the manuscript.
George Aike assisted with preparation of the map. David Houston
and one anonymous reviewer provided helpful comments that
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Editor: M Virani
... Eleven species of vulture occur in Africa (Ogada and Buij 2011), six of which are found in West Africa (Borrow and Demey 2014). These are the Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis, Rüppell's Vulture Gyps rueppelli, Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos and Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus. ...
... These are the Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis, Rüppell's Vulture Gyps rueppelli, Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos and Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus. Of these, the Hooded Vulture is the most closely associated with human habitations (Mundy et al. 1992;Thiollay 2006bThiollay , 2007bHenriques et al. 2017), while the local ranges of the other vulture species are confined to protected areas (Mundy et al. 1992;Thiollay 2007a;Ogada and Buij 2011). ...
... For centuries, Hooded Vultures in West Africa were common and strongly commensal with humans (Mundy et al. 1992;Thiollay 2006bThiollay , 2007b; they interacted with humans and had a place in the local culture (Mundy et al. 1992). Hooded Vultures were once frequently observed in public places, at landfill sites and open dumpsters, and around slaughterhouses and meat markets, often just a few meters away from people (Weesie and Belemsobgo 1997;Ogada and Buij 2011). Despite this close relationship with humans in West Africa, the regional Hooded Vulture population has declined by 45% from the 1970s to 2004 (Thiollay 2006a(Thiollay , 2006bMullié et al. 2017). ...
Hooded Vultures have suffered from dramatic population declines in recent decades owing to anthropogenic pressures. To properly address this threat, the sociocultural perspectives towards this species should be considered. We examined peoples' perceptions, knowledge and beliefs on Hooded Vulture's sociocultural values in Burkina Faso through face to face surveys at 20 sites spread across the country. A total of 900 interviews (with 600 householders and 300 butchers) revealed valuable knowledge and an overall positive perception of Hooded Vultures. More than 72% (n = 653) of interviewees (mostly Mossi, Bissa and Gourmatche ethnic groups) regarded Hooded Vultures as important, venerated and sacred birds, and we received no reports of Hooded Vultures attacking livestock-which is all beneficial to their conservation. Conversely, a minority of interviewees (12%, n = 108) believed that Hooded Vultures are harmful, but the reasons provided for this view were insubstantial. Nevertheless, the negative views towards Hooded Vultures should be urgently examined. Furthermore, the vast majority of respondents (84%, n = 753) viewed Hooded Vulture populations as having decreased and the main reasons provided were decreasing food availability, intentional killing using poisoned baits for beliefmbased use, habitat loss or degradation, and unintentional poisoning. Interestingly, most respondents (84%, n = 760) were acutely aware of the imminence of the Hooded Vulture's possible extinction and are willing to take conservation measures, suggesting both support and eventual success for conservation actions in this area. The key actions suggested by local communities are valuable for vulture conservation and include severely punishing poachers, supplying safe food for Hooded Vultures, preserving and restoring habitat, and raising awareness of Hooded Vulture conservation.
... The vulture is the most threatened group of birds in the world, and currently, 14 of 23 (61%) vulture species worldwide are threatened with extinction, and the most rapid declines have occurred in Asia and Africa (Sekercioglu 2006, Anderson 2007, BirdLife International 2011. Due to severe declines in parts of their range the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus) and Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrte smonachus) are now listed as Endangered species (BirdLife International 2011, 2012, Ogada and Buij 2011. The decline of vultures has serious implications for the species themselves, and potentially for other wildlife and human health (Prakash et al. 2003, Louis 2011. ...
... Regular monitoring of large roosts can indicate trends in annual production and population size (Meyer 1994). Conducting research on population dynamics of vultures has been identified as a priority to aid the planning and implementation of effective conservation strategies , Louis 2011, Ogada and Buij 2011, Birdlife International 2011. As a consequence of the recent dramatic population declines of vulture species in the world and the uncertainty with populations in Ethiopia, the Wondo Genet forest landscape populations of the vulture species are considered to be regionally and nationally significant. ...
... One of these methods is the intentional poisoning of carrion by poachers to prevent vultures from signalling the presence of carrion and alerting the gamekeeper . Similarly, traditional medicine (see SECTION 1.8 in this chapter) is a motive for killing vultures in several African countries (Nikolaus, 2011;Ogada & Buij, 2011;Roxburgh & Mcdougall, 2012;McKean et al., 2013;Beilis & Esterhuizen, 2005). This can lead to a significant number of deaths not only among resident species but also among migratory European species. ...
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Environmental crimes refer to those behaviours that put natural resources and the environment at risk and which, due to their particular seriousness, are subject to the greatest social and legal reproach, and have therefore been included in national criminal legislations, being the most severe penalties, such as imprisonment, applied for some of these behaviours. These measures are intended to restore the damage caused, to deter potential offenders and to protect the legal asset at stake.However, this reactive approach cannot be considered in isolation and needs to be accompanied by awareness-raising and communication measures to promote understanding and compliance with the rules, as well as measures to reintegrate offenders. The comprehensive prevention of environmental crime ultimately aims to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of the criminal act being committed. Thus, to ensure the success of any preventive measure, it is necessary to start gaining a detailed knowledge of the problem, i.e., the causes and circumstances that give rise to it. This is the main objective of this paper – analysing the motivations that lead to committing environmental crimes. It is focused on Spain and Portugal, although some of the chapters provide a universal analysis of the motivation for environmental crime. The first chapter explores the published scientific literature on the subject, with a special focus on crimes against wildlife, such as illegal hunting and trade in protected species, possession and release into the wild of alien species, illegal waste management and habitat destruction, in particular through forest fires (issues such as illegal urban development, which is mainly economically motivated and has not been the subject of any scientific study, are not analysed here). Therefore, this is an unprecedented summary of information collected on the environmental problems caused, the cultural origin of the offences, if applicable, and the common motivations for committing them after depersonalising the events. The second chapter analyses, through a general population survey, the social perception in Spain and Portugal of wildlife and environmental crimes and their different elements (subject, object and context), as well as the actions taken by different entities and organisations to detect, prevent and respond to them. The third chapter presents the results of the analysis of more than 250 judgments given for environmental crimes in Spain. The main connections found between the species concerned, the methods used in the crimes, the geographical location, the general profile of the offenders who committed the crimes using the available data and the decisions taken are presented. In the fourth chapter, we surveyed law enforcement officers in charge of investigating several of these crimes (illegal hunting, illegal buying and selling of species and destruction of nests of protected species), both in Spain and Portugal. The motivations these officers attribute to offenders are shown in the results, as well as their views and experiences regarding the effectiveness of the legal system and penalties and the changes they would propose to make it more effective. After presenting some conclusions on all the above in chapter five, the last chapter contains some final considerations and proposes future lines of action based on the findings of this analysis as a whole. These lines of action follow two fundamental approaches, which must necessarily be interconnected: research of the various psychological, social and legal factors that interact with each other and intervention, both for specific populations and for the general population. In order to make reading and understanding easier, the information in each of these chapters will be structured according to the specific table of contents at the beginning of each chapter, with an initial summary and final conclusions. This report was prepared within the framework of LIFE Nature Guardians (Action A4), a project funded by the European Union's LIFE programme, which aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of actions aimed at fighting crimes against nature. It is coordinated by SEO/BirdLife and its beneficiary partners are the Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Department of the Autonomous Government of Andalusia, the Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA) and the Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA) of the General Directorate of the Civil Guard.
... It is well known that unsafe power lines cause raptor and vulture mortalities and have contributed to population declines (Angelov et al. 2013). Since it is well established that the main drivers of vulture declines in West Africa are excessive exploitation and illegal trade for traditional beliefs, poisoning, and other anthropogenic threats (Thiollay 2006, Ogada & Buij 2011, Ogada et al. 2012, Di Vittorio et al. 2018, Williams et al. 2021, these may explain the almost total absence of vultures recorded during this survey. ...
Vulture and raptor populations have declined across West Africa during recent decades due to numerous and widespread anthropogenic threats. To estimate encounter rates of vultures and raptors in northern Nigeria, we conducted a total of 248 km driven transects on 195 km and 53 km of paved and unpaved roads, respectively. We also conducted walked surveys beneath 79 km of power transmission lines to search for dead vultures and raptors; and visited 12 abattoirs, 11 slaughterhouses, and 12 dumpsites to assess the occurrence of vultures and raptors. All fieldwork was done between October and December 2018. Overall, 357 individuals of 23 species were detected, most of which were recorded at low encounter rates. Only one Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus was recorded across all surveys, and no other vulture species were seen. Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius, Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis, and Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus had the highest encounter rates of 0.351, 0.262, and 0.189 individuals km-1, respectively. In contrast, the largest raptor species, Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Beaudouin's Snake-eagle, and Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus had the lowest encounter rate of 0.004 individuals km-1 (one individual each). No dead vultures or raptors were found during the walked surveys beneath power lines. Although historical data about vulture and raptor distribution and abundance in northern Nigeria are limited, our results show an apparent absence of vultures from the wider landscape and a low density of raptors. Support among local stakeholders for the conservation of vultures and raptors should be encouraged through wider dissemination of information about the importance of these birds, as well as stronger deterrents again illegal killing and trade.
... Both cliffs and treenesting vultures (Long-billed and White-rumped) have specific breeding site requirements, which are easily affected by human activities such as the construction of tourist or leisure facilities near breeding cliffs; widening of roads and highways; logging, other forms of deforestation, and clearance of large trees in agricultural areas. Habitat loss and degradation are suspected to have contributed to the dramatic declines of vultures (Hooded, Rüppell's, White-backed, White-headed, and Lappet-faced) outside protected areas in West Africa (Thiollay 2006;Ogada & Buij 2011). In East Africa, specifically in and around the Masai Mara National Reserve, Virani, et al. (2011) showed that declines in large vultures (Rüppell's, Whitebacked, White-headed and Lappet-faced) were linked to changes in land use and tenure systems (grazed, buffer zones, reserve) with declines largest outside the reserve area. ...
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Landscapes are essentially ecosystems that are an interplay between the environment and human civilizations. These landscapes represent the common unit of analysis for historical ecology as the landscape holds the record of human activity on earth. The Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve (NBR) in South India, enjoys the unique status of harbouring critically endangered mammals like tigers, elephants, hyenas, and an established corridor of Elephants and critically endangered Gyps vultures. Fieldwork was conducted from 2017-2019 with the tribal communities employing the standard anthropological method of participant observation. For bird identification, we used the photo-elicitation technique. We carried out semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. Information was sought using a triangulation procedure. We documented the indigenous knowledge of the Irulas and Todas, the two dominant communities, their cultural roles, changes in tribal practices that impacted landscape changes that impacted the decline of vultures, and the carcass protocol among the three groups of vultures and the traditional names and practices were also recorded. The modern management tactics destroyed the cultural connection that existed between the indigenous populations and the vultures and other natural scavengers. Our study explores the associated indigenous knowledge of vultures and the changes that happened in the landscape of the NBR of India.
... Jallow et al. (2016) suggested three reasons for the relatively high numbers of Hooded Vultures observed during their roadside counts in the West Coast region of The Gambia. Firstly, Hooded Vultures are a human commensal species in West Africa (Mundy et al. 1992;Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001;Ogada and Buij 2011), and this may help them to do well in this heavily populated area of one of Africa's most densely populated countries (Jallow et al. 2016;United Nations Population Fund 2022b). The fact that the human population is increasing so rapidly in the West Coast (The Gambia Bureau of Statistics 2022) may also explain why numbers of Hooded Vultures have increased in this region from 2005 to 2017. ...
The current catastrophic decline in African vultures is caused mainly by poisoning, and killing for consumption and belief-based use (traditional medicine). To find out more about the key threats to vultures in West Africa, we assessed the main anthropogenic causes of vulture mortality in Burkina Faso. We analysed incidents of mass vulture mortality, based on interviews conducted in 2016 with local butchers, veterinarians, foresters, and abattoir watchmen at 44 sites across the country. A total of 730 interviews revealed that poisoning was the main cause of mortality of vultures in Burkina Faso (20 of the 23 mass mortality incidents described by respondents were caused by poisoning). Poisoning was also the most lethal threat to vultures (779 out of 879 known vulture deaths were due to poisoning). According to the survey, intentional poisoning of vultures with poisoned baits (which comprised 15 out of 23 mass mortality incidents) produced the highest number of victims (577 out of 879 dead vultures). The number of vultures killed by poisoned baits was higher closer to the borders than elsewhere in Burkina Faso and we believe these recent intentional vulture poisoning events in Burkina Faso were intended to meet the growing demand for vulture body parts in West Africa. The survey showed that unintentional poisoning was the second main cause of vulture mass mortality (5 out of 23 mass mortality incidents comprising 202 of 879 dead vultures). Other important anthropogenic causes of vulture mortality included electrocution at electricity poles and motor vehicle collisions. Our results highlight the need for awareness campaigns, improved policy and legislation, and stronger commitment from governments in West Africa, to halt the trade in vultures and prevent their extirpation.
... Vulture populations in Africa are in rapid decline as a result of various factors, including poisoning, habitat loss and degradation, collisions and electrocutions on linear infrastructure, and the illegal killing of vultures for the traditional medicine trade or for bushmeat (Ogada and Buij 2011;Angelov et al. 2013;Phipps et al. 2013;Rushworth and Krüger 2014;Buij et al. 2016;Santangeli et al. 2016;Daboné et al. 2019;Gore et al. 2020;Mashele et al. 2021a). Of the 10 vulture species commonly found in Africa, six are classed as globally Critically Endangered or Endangered (Thompson et al. 2021;IUCN 2022). ...
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Most vulture species worldwide are in decline and of conservation concern. Despite the growing attention to vultures, relatively few studies have focused on their breeding behaviour. Understanding all aspects of a species’ behaviour and its behavioural needs could help to inform conservation efforts. Behavioural studies can be enhanced with the use of an ethogram that clearly defines and describes distinct behaviours. We present the first ethogram detailing the nesting and breeding behaviours of the Critically Endangered Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, compiled from over 400 000 nest camera photographs and from hours of direct personal observations at nests in north-eastern South Africa. We describe 28 behaviours that Hooded Vultures exhibited in and around their nests, and these fell into five discrete categories: Movement, Resting, Body Care, Social, and Nesting. We also present 34 camera trap images depicting behaviours from within each category, and discuss the uses and limitations of behaviour-recording technologies. Many of these behavioural elements may be common across vulture species, and so this ethogram may be a useful starting point for other researchers studying vultures globally.
Knowledge of Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) breeding behavior is important for monitoring purposes and to understand factors that may impact their breeding rates. In this study, we describe the breeding behavior of 65 Hooded Vulture pairs during two breeding seasons (2013/2014 and 2014/2015) in the Sudano-Sahelian area, Garango, in central-eastern Burkina Faso. The main behavioral patterns examined were aerial displays, copulation, nest building, incubation, nestling-rearing, and nest attendance. Hooded Vultures appeared highly selective with regard to nesting tree selection (91% of the 65 nests were in one of three species: Parkia biglobosa, Faidherbia albida, and Tamarindus indica). The breeding period of 65 pairs of Hooded Vultures spanned approximately 8 mo from egg-laying to fledging of the young. The constructed nests included a variety of human-made waste (plastic, paper, paperboard, and rags). Incubation lasted 48.1 ± 2.0 (SD) d for 18 hatched eggs. Juveniles continued receiving food from their parents on the nesting site for at least 38 d after fledging, and stayed with their parents for >5 mo post-fledging. Aerial displays were frequently performed by Hooded Vultures in pairs (two adults) or in threes (two adults with juvenile) and those observed early in the breeding season were considered to be courtship displays. Both sexes contributed to nest building and incubation tasks, and nestlings were relatively well attended by parents at all times of the day during the first weeks. Hooded Vultures produced 0.70 fledged young per nest where eggs were laid, or 0.57 fledged young per territorial pair. Hooded Vultures have a relatively healthy reproductive rate, but remain threatened primarily by direct human persecution. Local protection of Hooded Vultures in this area should be strengthened by public awareness campaigns to safeguard the population's long-term persistence. Conocer el comportamiento reproductor de Necrosyrtes monachus es importante para fines de seguimiento y para comprender los factores que pueden afectar sus tasas reproductivas. En este estudio, describimos el comportamiento reproductor de 65 parejas de N. monachus durante dos temporadas de cría (2013/2014 y 2014/2015) en el área sudano-saheliana, Garango, centro-este de Burkina Faso. Los principales patrones de comportamiento examinados fueron las exhibiciones aéreas, la cópula, la construcción del nido, la incubación, la crianza de los polluelos y la asistencia al nido. Los individuos de N. monachus parecieron ser muy selectivos con respecto a la selección de árboles para anidar (91% de los 65 nidos estaban en una de las siguientes especies: Parkia biglobosa, Faidherbia albida y Tamarindus indica). El período reproductor de las 65 parejas abarcó aproximadamente 8 meses, desde la puesta de huevos hasta el emplumamiento de las crías. Los nidos construidos incluyeron una variedad de desechos antropogénicos (plástico, papel, cartón y trapos). La incubación duró 48.1 ± 2.0 (DE) d para 18 huevos eclosionados. Los juveniles continuaron recibiendo comida de sus progenitores en el sitio de anidación durante al menos 38 días después del salto del nido y permanecieron con sus progenitores durante >5 meses después de dicho salto. N. monachus realizó con frecuencia exhibiciones aéreas en parejas (dos adultos) o en tríos (dos adultos con un juvenil) y aquellas observadas al comienzo de la estación reproductiva fueron consideradas como exhibiciones de cortejo. Ambos sexos contribuyeron a las tareas de construcción e incubación del nido, y los polluelos estuvieron relativamente bien atendidos por sus progenitores en todo momento del día durante las primeras semanas. N. monachus produjo 0.70 pollos por nido donde se pusieron huevos, o 0.57 pollos por pareja territorial. N. monachus tiene una tasa reproductiva relativamente saludable, pero sigue amenazado principalmente por la persecución humana directa. La protección local de N. monachus en esta área debería ser fortalecida mediante campañas de concienciación pública para salvaguardar la persistencia a largo plazo de esta población. [Traducción del equipo editorial]
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Road surveys are a useful tool for comparing vulture population trends. Here we present data from road surveys to count Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus in The Gambia in 2017 and 2021. In the first nationwide road survey in November 2017 (during this species’ breeding period), we counted 7.3 Hooded Vultures per km. In The Gambia’s West Coast, we counted 33.3 Hooded Vultures per km in November 2017 (during this species’ breeding period) and 27.4 Hooded Vultures per km in May 2021 (during the non-breeding period). In the rest of the country (i.e. in The Gambia’s North Bank, Central, Upper and Lower River regions), we counted 3.3 Hooded Vultures per km in November 2017 and 2.1 Hooded Vultures per km in November 2021, which may represent cause for concern. These figures for The Gambia’s West Coast region far exceed the results of road surveys conducted in the same area in 2005, 2013, and 2015. The number of Hooded Vultures recorded per km in the West Coast region increased from 2005 to 2017, but dipped slightly into May 2021, when we would have expected to see an increase, as the 2021 survey was carried out in the non-breeding period. In the non-breeding period vultures would not be confined to nests and populations should be at their highest, due to recently fledged juveniles entering the population. Overall, the densities of Hooded Vultures counted in The Gambia from 2005 to 2021 indicate that population densities are higher in The Gambia than in any other country where road surveys have taken place. The densities were orders of magnitude higher than those in eastern and southern Africa. However, given the decline in numbers between 2017 and 2021, we should not be complacent about the stability of this population.
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Nesting of vultures was studied alongside with their population and distribution. Vulture's nest is usually occupied by male and female for successful incubation of egg(s) and rearing of the chick(s). Continuation and preservation of an organism is achieved through conducive breeding habitat; vultures inclusive. Two nests were found at Kpokap all on Giant cola tree (Cola gigantea). The nests were placed each at the fork of the tree trunk. Nest 1 was located at about 9.5m above the ground while nest 2 was located at about 8.5m above the ground. The monogamous vultures fly out from their nests but hoover around whenever they felt threatened. This study is aimed at preserving the breeding pairs of vultures found at the study areas as fast as possible.
The sparsely populated Central African Republic contained, until recently, some of the most spectacular wilderness areas in Africa. The larger mammals in the north have now been decimated by heavily armed bands of poachers from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, but the forests in the south still shelter a very rich fauna. These forests contain some of Africa’s richest stands of valuable hardwoods, protected in part by the enormous cost of transporting the timber to the sea for export. The timber trade has declined in recent years in the face of competition from cheaper timbers from other African and Asian countries and it may continue to do so in spite of the threat posed by the construction of a major highway linking the capital, Bangui, with the Atlantic Ocean.
Scavenging birds are very conspicuous in Kampala and a number of counts have been made of their numbers since the 1970s. Between the 1970s and mid- 2000s the breeding population of Marabou Storks Leptoptilos crumeniferus increased from about 100 pairs to nearly a thousand, whilst roost counts of Black Kites Milvus migrans also showed large increases. Numbers of Pied Crows Corvus albus and Hooded Vultures Necrosyrtes monachus, also counted as they came into communal roosts, showed lower rates of increase; from mid to late 2000s however, Hooded Vultures seem to be decreasing. These increases perhaps reflect the four-fold increase in the human population over the same period, considerably adding to the refuse upon which these birds mainly feed. In view of alarming declines of scavengers elsewhere, especially vultures, we plan to continue monitoring these Kampala birds.
Most assessments of biodiversity are based on lists that record only the presence or absence of selected species within a given area. Information on the actual numbers of individuals that live or breed within such an area is rarely available, despite being essential data to understand the ecology and conservation of species. Estimates of population size are usually only available for a few large vertebrate and plant species, even in the two most extensive conservation areas in South Africa, the Kruger National Park (KNP) and the South African section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP, previously the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park). We present a method that provides preliminary estimates of population size, based on a series of population thresholds that increase by the power of 2, or by doubling. The main characteristic of such estimates is that the proportional margin of error or interval width remains the same, at half or double the estimated population threshold, even though the absolute estimated population sizes and their errors increase exponentially by the power of 2. We present such population estimates for each bird species that has been recorded within the KNP (517 species) and KTP (313 species). We were able to assess the accuracy of our estimates using various techniques, including comparison with the independently obtained reporting rates that were available for most species from the Southern African Bird Atlas Project. Our annotated species lists consolidate bird information for the KNP and KTP, two important areas for ecotourism. Our population estimates allow the first ecological comparisons of the residency, numbers, biomass, diet and nesting habits of the component avifaunas. They show, in particular, the dominance by numbers and biomass of ostrich (Struthio camelus) in the KTP and red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea) in the KNP. Our estimates should be most accurate for those smaller populations that are of most conservation concern, rather than for larger, less-vulnerable populations, and so will indicate the role of these parks for avian conservation in South Africa. Our rationale for providing these preliminary estimates is that they generate hypotheses and should encourage more accurate population surveys.