Why vultures deserve respect and conservation

This video says about itself:

If Vultures Ate You, Here’s What You’d See

8 September 2015

This is what happens when you put a camera inside a wildebeest carcass on the Serengeti, then drive away.

In some parts of the world, vulture populations have declined by up to 95 percent, mostly from habitat loss and poisoning by humans. Look for more on vultures in the January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.

VIDEOGRAPHER: Charlie Hamilton James
EDITOR: Shannon Sanders

By Julie Larsen Maher in the USA:

September 3, 2015

Vultures – Ecological Sentinels

And that is a good thing. These big birds of prey scavenge meals from the rotting remains of animals, and by doing so, help to keep our wild places clean.

Vultures range throughout most of the world, but in some areas, their populations have plummeted. Veterinary drugs like Diclofenac and Nimesulide, used to treat livestock in parts of Asia, linger in carcasses that are toxic to the vultures that feed on them. Once numbering in the tens of millions, three Asian species, the Oriental white-backed, slender-billed, and long-billed vultures, have declined by 99% in the last 20 years as a result. Changing agricultural practices in Africa and Asia, including pesticide application, have removed vulture habitat. In Africa, likewise, vulture numbers are threatened by poisons used to kill predators, and in the Americas, lead poisoning is a key problem holding back these remarkable birds.

Todd Katzner, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and frequent collaborator with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has been working with unique approaches to effectively measure the penetration of ecological contaminants on vultures. He is focusing efforts on more common and stable populations, turkey and black vultures, found in the Americas.

JLM: Can studying vultures help to monitor the health of an entire ecosystem?

TK: Absolutely. Vultures are scavengers. That means that the food that ends up in them is essentially a survey of toxins and other contaminants at lower trophic levels. Thus, the health of the system is really reflected within vultures.

JLM: Why are turkey and black vultures less susceptible to contaminants than other vulture species?

TK: Evolution mostly. For example, vultures are resistant to botulinum toxin. That makes sense because this toxin is associated with rotting meat products and scavengers would benefit by not getting sick when they eat dead stuff. On the other hand, we know vultures are sensitive to some poisons like lead and in the case of Eurasian vultures, Diclofenac.

JLM: What techniques do you use to evaluate turkey and black vultures?

TK: Mostly we study live birds or birds that die for reasons unrelated to our research. With live birds we collect blood and feathers and study contaminant levels in them. In dead birds, we collect samples from a large number of tissues and evaluate relationships among those tissues, to understand how toxins spread throughout the animal’s body.

JLM: How will your work help the vultures in trouble in other parts of the world?

TK: Vultures are ecological sentinels, and if we understand how some of them react to a changing environment, we can begin to use those as models for the ones we understand less well. In the case of North America’s vultures, two of the three species, turkey and black vultures, are doing really well – if we can understand why then we can begin to think about ways that we can help vultures in other places.

JLM: What can people do to help protect and conserve vultures?

TK: Vultures are threatened by a few key problems. Persecution and poisoning are two of the big ones. Within North America, vultures are mostly threatened by lead poisoning, from spent lead ammunition. There are many opportunities for hunters to use effective, non-lead ammunition and use of those products results in less lead in the environment. In Africa, vulture conservation is most well served if we find ways to reduce intentional poisoning of wildlife, especially scavenging wildlife, at carcasses. In India, important steps in drug bans have recently been taken to improve the future outlook of vultures.

Editor’s Note: Saturday, September 5 is International Vulture Awareness Day, established to inform a wider audience about vulture conservation and highlight the important work being carried out by the world’s vulture conservationists.

Saving vultures in Pakistan

This video says about itselF:

31 August 2011

Kenya celebrates the International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) by showing the diversity of species, illustrating their critical role in the environment and focusing on their main cause for their widespread decline, poisoning with pesticides.

Dr Richard Leakey makes a personal statement regarding his own experience in witnessing the decline of vultures and highlights the need for governments to tackle poisoning issues seriously, otherwise the future of vultures is [certain. IVAD is a global event with awareness campaigns in the America’s, throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and the far East. Vultures have declined as much as 95% over South Asia and India because of the side-effect of diclophenac, a pharmaceutical drug meant to relieve pain in livestock.

Wind turbines and electricity lines are proving to be another serious hazard for vultures all over the world. Habitat removal and disturbance also play major roles in their declines.

Vultures are one of the most beneficial animals due to their “clean-up” work and removing carcasses that would otherwise rot and encourage disease. In Kenya vultures play a vital role in not only wildlife health but in the pastoral livestock rearing lands and in community public health. Join us in celebrating the vulture!

From Pakistan Today:

Plan for protection of fast-disappearing vultures

September 1, 2015 BY PPI

At the Baanhn Beli office in Nagarparkar, Tharparkar, Sindh, close to the Pakistan-India border, a new project was launched at a simple yet colourful, well-attended event to prepare a comprehensive national strategy to protect and conserve endangered vultures.

These birds have become a highly endangered species in Pakistan in recent years.

Serving as a unique scavenger bird for the past 50 million years which cleans the landscape from dead or rotting carcasses and is a vital link in the web of nature and ecosystems, the number of vultures in Pakistan has declined steeply over the past two decades. Nagarparkar Taluka is one of only two or three areas in the whole country where small colonies of vultures are still present.

A total of 224 residents of villages in Nagarparkar Taluka comprising 131 men and 93 women participated in the project launch ceremony. Volunteer-leaders of Baanhn Beli, a representative of IUCN, officials of the Departments of Wildlife, Forests, Local Administration of the Government of Sindh, leaders of other NGOs working in Tharparkar and village leaders addressed the gathering and gave relevant details.

Speakers highlighted the fact that the principal reason for the rapid and alarming reduction in the number of vultures is that a pain-killing drug known as “Diclofenac” normally administered to livestock to kill pain and increase weight and milk production proved to be catastrophically fatal for the internal organs of vultures. Similar rapid declines have been seen in India, Nepal and several countries in Africa. In 2006, the Government of Pakistan banned the production and use of veterinary medicines containing “Diclofenac” to save the rapidly declining vulture population.

However, unauthorised use of diclofenac continues and poses a threat to this remarkable species. Following the constitution of an Asia Regional Steering Committee on Vultures by IUCN in 2012, the Ministry of Climate Change has notified “National Vulture Recovery Committee” in 2012 to improve the coordination for conservation of vultures at the national level.

Several negative effects of the decline in the vulture population are already evident. These include contamination of the soil and water, infection of other species and human beings, increase in the number of feral dogs which feed on the dead or rotting carcasses and become dangerous animals for human settlements.

Concerted efforts on local, provincial, national and regional levels will be required to prepare and implement an effective strategy for the protection and conservation of vultures.

With this goal, the volunteer-led, community-based development organisation known as Baanhn Beli (a friend forever), now in its 31st year of public service in the Tharparkar arid region, in collaboration with IUCN-The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest environment organisation has launched the project for the formulation of the National Vulture Conservation Strategy. USAID is proving funding support to the project.

Over the next 10 months, a series of coordinated actions are planned with the active participation of village communities, local resource persons, relevant officials, technical international and national experts to identify specific measures at multiple levels that will conserve existing numbers and promote their safe breeding. Consultations will also be held with the national and international experts on similar initiatives taken in South Asia and Africa.

The launch ceremony in Nagarparkar is being followed up with an inception ceremony on September 7, 2015.


Save South African vultures, campaign

This video from South Africa says about itself:

1 September 2015

Exclusive footage of ‘Tuluver’ revealed.

To everyone who liked, hated, tweeted, debated, narrated, shared, posted, declared, noted, backed it, cracked it, wrote articles, deleted them, printed them, supported and celebrated; BirdLife South Africa and more so the Vultures, sincerely thank you.

From BirdLife:

New species or unnoticed plight?

By Martin Fowlie, Fri, 04/09/2015 – 14:47

The beautiful, newly ‘discovered’ bird species, the Tuluver, is a digitally-altered image of a Lappet-faced Vulture. The fictitious bird is part of a campaign to draw attention to the plight of Africa’s vultures on International Vulture Awareness Day.

BirdLife South Africa’s carefully planned campaign prompted a social media storm, generating much debate as to the authenticity of the photo. Some soon twigged the image was part of a bold stunt by BirdLife South Africa in aid of International Vulture Awareness Day.

The big reveal was shown in an online video, where viewers could see the reverse transformation of the ‘Tuluver’ into a vulture. (As eagle eyes spotted, Tuluver is an anagram for Vulture.) The video culminated in a simple message: “If we can get this passionate about discovering new species, why can’t we get as passionate about losing them?”

The stunt, conceptualised by communications agency Utopia in partnership with BirdLife South Africa, aims to raise awareness of the often unappreciated and endangered vultures whose plight has gone unnoticed.

“Many people simply don’t know of the ecological value vultures have, and regard them as ‘ugly’”, explains Carl Cardinelli, Creative Partner of Utopia. “Our idea was to test the notion of whether people would notice vultures if they were beautiful or new and exciting. We created a new, fictitious bird, the Tuluver, with all the important characteristics of a vulture, except we made it more traditionally beautiful.”

Vital service providers

“Africa’s vultures are in serious trouble and they need urgent conservation attention and, for this reason, we decided to use a brave approach during our International Vulture Awareness Day awareness efforts”, explains Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa.

“We’ve already seen the decimation of three species of Asian Gyps vultures, which were brought to the brink of extinction following the use of a fatal drug called Diclofenac (commonly known as Voltaren). The absence of vultures subsequently led to an increase in feral dogs and, in turn, an increase in rabies, with an estimated cost to human health of approximately US$ 1.5 billion.”

“Science forms the basis to much of BirdLife South Africa’s work, so we realised that we could open ourselves up to criticism by announcing the discovery of a fictitious bird. We do however know that, in our important bird conservation work, awareness is immensely important, and therefore out-the-box type campaigns are occasionally necessary. We do apologise for any ‘feathers ruffled’, but we must be willing to be bold if we are to help ensure that Africa’s vultures do not follow the same path as their Asian cousins or the California Condor in North America,” says Anderson.

The stunt certainly got vultures noticed in what has been the biggest publicity campaign BirdLife South Africa has ever pulled off. “We were overwhelmed by the response of our initial post and, for example, we reached about 250,000 through our Facebook Page alone during the first 48 hours. Many more were reached through other media,” says Anderson. ”In the spirit of International Vulture Awareness Day, we hope people will share the video and help champion the real reason of our campaign.”

New threats

“More recently, a new contributor to the species’ decline in Africa is poaching. Poachers lace their victim’s remains with poison, providing one fatal last meal for vultures whose overhead circling might signal the poachers’ presence to rangers.”

“Other threats include a declining availability of food, inadvertent poisoning by livestock farmers, electrocution on electricity pylons and drowning in farm reservoirs”. “Sadly some people believe that eating the brains of vultures enables one to predict the outcome of the lottery or a football match”.

“Perhaps not as pretty as a panda or as regal as a rhino, their plight should be equally important,” says Anderson. “Vultures are nature’s ultimate clean-up crew, disposing of carrion and, in turn, preventing the spread of diseases such rabies, anthrax and botulism. They are vitally important to both the environment and humans alike,” he explains.

“Unfortunately many people do not like vultures and they regard them as ugly and dirty, which is of course not the case.”

Rare Egyptian vulture discovery in Niger

This video says about itself:

Egyptian Vulture – equilibrist

Azerbaijan. Turianchai reserve. June 24, 2013.

From the Vulture Conservation Foundation:

17 August 2015

Egyptian Vultures found breeding in Niger

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) – one of the smallest vultures in the world – is still declining fast across its vast range that includes Europe, Asia and Africa, and was in 2007 uplisted to Globally Endangered.

While populations in Europe are relatively well studied – although still declining fast – knowledge about the species in Africa is very poor. We know the species used to breed across the continent, from northern Africa through the Sahel zone to north Tanzania, down to south-west Angola and north-west Namibia, with a gap around equatorial Africa.

Even though data is lacking, breeding Egyptian vultures suffered a large decline in Africa too, and the species may be extinct in many countries south of the Sahara as a breeding species – although in the winter Africa receives many migrant Egyptian vultures coming from Europe.

Recently, colleagues from the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) have found that the species is still breeding in Niger – the first recent breeding record in the country. They found two pairs breeding in the Koutous Massif. This is good news for the species – incidentally, the area is close to the wintering quarters of European Egyptian vultures.

Congratulations to SCF for the fruitful work and for pushing vulture conservation in that part of the world.

Saving Asian vultures from extinction

This video says about itself:

Yula Kapetanakos: Asian Vulture Study

19 July 2012

Despite their grisly lifestyle, vultures play an important role in nature and are even important for protecting human health—but in southeast Asia several species are facing extinction from exposure to a drug used to treat livestock. Cornell graduate student Yula Kapetanakos tells us about her doctoral research on White-rumped Vultures in Cambodia.

She extracts genetic samples from dropped feathers and uses them to determine how many vultures remain and how closely related they are. Since the birds naturally shed these feathers, her work doesn’t affect the birds at all; and since she is able to accurately identify individuals through their genetic fingerprints, her counts have revealed population levels that exceed those estimated with previous techniques—good news for an imperiled species.

From BirdLife:

Major breakthrough in fight to save Asian vultures from extinction

By Martin Fowlie, Fri, 28/08/2015 – 09:32

A major step for the future of vultures in Asia has been announced by the Indian Ministry of Health. A ban of multi-dose vials of human formulations of diclofenac, which is responsible for the death of tens of millions of Asia’s vultures, has come into force with immediate effect.

The painkiller was banned from veterinary use in India in 2006 because of its lethal effects on vultures that feed on the carcasses of treated cattle and buffaloes, but human formulations of the drug have been illegally used to treat animals since then. The ban sees diclofenac production now restricted to human formulations in a single 3ml dose.

Chris Bowden, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and SAVE vulture programme manager said, “Despite diclofenac being illegal for veterinary use since 2006, human formulations have been made readily available in large vials by irresponsible drug companies, making it cheap and easy to use illegally to treat cattle and buffalo. This ban means that the large vials can no longer be manufactured and sold, making it more difficult to use illegally for animals and thereby removing it from the primary source of food for Asia’s vultures.  This is a huge step closer to bringing vultures back from the brink of extinction.”

Veterinary diclofenac caused an unprecedented decline in the three species South Asia’s Gyps vulture populations – White-rumped, the long-billed and the slender-billed vulture. Oriental white-backed vultures declined by more than 99.9% between 1992 and 2007, with the loss of tens of millions of individuals.

After years of campaigning by conservationists, the governments of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan banned veterinary formulations of diclofenac between 2006 and 2010. Recently, experts have recorded a slowing of Gyps vulture declines as a result of the bans. However, human formulations of diclofenac are still widely available and illegally used to treat livestock, the carcasses of which are the main food source for vultures in South Asia.

The RSPB is a member of SAVE (Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction), which is a consortium of international organisations created to oversee and co-ordinate conservation, campaigning and fundraising activities to help the plight of South Asia’s vultures.  Since it was created, SAVE has requested pharmaceutical companies to cease production of the large vials of human formulations of diclofenac, which, at 30ml, are ten times the size of the dose required to treat a human (i.e., 3ml).  Only three companies voluntarily ceased manufacture ahead of this regulation, while more than 70 in India ignored the requests. Health professionals do not think that the banning of large vials poses any significant threat for the legitimate use of diclofenac in treating humans.

Vibhu Prakash, a scientist from the Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife in India) said, “Probably the most important step in vulture conservation since diclofenac’s ban for veterinary use in 2006, this latest announcement shows how much progress has been made. But there is still a job to do to make sure that safe alternative drugs are used.  Unfortunately, many alternatives, like ketoprofen, are not vulture-safe and more remain untested. In fact, there is only one vulture-safe alternative – meloxicam.”

Meloxicam is becoming more widely used now that the cost to manufacture it has been reduced by lifting its patent in South Asia.  However, other drugs known to be toxic or with unknown effects remain legal and are still being used.

Closer to home, an Italian company was, incredibly, given the green light to produce diclofenac for the Italian and Spanish veterinary markets, eight years after India’s first ban on the drug. Vultures inhabit both countries and feed on livestock carcasses, some of which will be treated with diclofenac. Vulture conservationists fear that this will cause declines in Europe’s vultures similar to that seen in South Asia. However, these fears have not been taken seriously by the European Medicines Agency who did not advise a European Union-wide ban on diclofenac.

Toby Galligan, RSPB Vulture Research scientist, said: “Again the government of India has made a strong decision to protect its vultures. Something that Europe has failed to do. It is truly shameful.”

SAVE is working to stop veterinary use of diclofenac by advocating vulture conservation to governments and raising awareness of alternative drugs that are just as effective in treating cattle to veterinarians and livestock owners.  While these issues are being tackled in situ, SAVE has established captive breeding populations of vultures at centres in India, Nepal and Pakistan. The birds will be released to supplement surviving wild populations, but only when it is safe to do so.

See also here.

California condor nest webcam on the Internet

This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Male Condor #509 Visits Delivers Meal to Chick, August 21, 2015

24 August 2015

The male condor returned for an extended period, repeatedly feeding the youngster and resting for a while before leaving.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA writes about this:

August 26, 2015

Live From a California Condor Nest!

Our newest cam focuses on one of the most iconic and hard-to-observe species in North America: the California Condor. The cliffside nest cavity on camera in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary is home to a 5-month old condor (wing tagged #93), who is the offspring of a 21-year old female (#111) and a 6-year old male (#509). Learn more about the condors on cam.

This live stream is the product of a long-term collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology.

In 1982, only 22 California Condors survived world-wide. By spring of 1987, all remaining wild condors had been placed in captivity, thus beginning an intensive recovery effort among government agencies, zoos and other conservation groups to save the California Condor from extinction. In 1992, the Service began reintroducing captive-bred condors into the wild and with the help of public and private partners the total population has grown to approximately 430 birds, with more than half of the population flying free. Learn more about condor conservation.

This year, the California Condor Recovery Program celebrated a milestone in endangered species recovery with a record 19 wild condor nests in California. Biologists with the Service began using cams to remotely monitor the nests of condors in 2010, and this year we were able to help bring the live view to Bird Cams viewers everywhere.

The Condor Cam runs from dawn to dusk, and you can expect to see the growing condor chick stretch its wings and feet in unique yoga-like poses and interact energetically with its attentive parents during their nest visits … Off-camera, the persistent calls of Acorn Woodpeckers, Stellar’s [sic: Steller’s] Jays, and Common Ravens provide the auditory backdrop that helps make you feel like you’ve got your own cliffside seat.

Condor chicks can be very curious, and we’re excited to share their little-known world with you. We’ll be posting updates on the Condor Cam twitter feed and the Bird Cams Facebook page so you don’t miss anything important. Thanks for watching!

Saving Egyptian vultures, update

This is an Egyptian vulture video from Spain.

From BirdLife:

Saving the Egyptian Vulture: Mission still possible

By Stoyan Nikolov, Tue, 04/08/2015 – 10:06

Vultures may not be the prettiest of birds: They are often reviled for their looks, and are prone to illegal killing and poisoning, but it’s hard to argue against their usefulness.

The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), for example, feeds primarily on carcasses of dead animals. It is nature’s waste disposal service and plays a vital role in preventing the spread of diseases. This species of vulture is the smallest and the only migratory European vulture, listed as globally “Endangered” in 2007 due to a drop in population in most of its range.

n Europe, the species has declined by over 50% in the last 50 years, and in the Balkans, over 80% have been lost in the last 30 years.

Why is this happening

Most Egyptian Vulture populations are migratory. The eastern population of the species (breeding across the Balkans, Anatolia, Central Asia and the Middle East) travels thousands of kilometres to winter in Sahel Africa (a huge stretch of land that runs west to east across the continent, through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria and Sudan, among other countries) and Arabia.

In general, large-scale threats include: habitat degradation and food shortage through changes in land use; pastoral systems; collisions with windfarms; use of agricultural chemicals; veterinary and sanitary practices; and the control of feral dogs (in the fight against rabies in Africa). These affect vultures not only on their breeding grounds, but also along their migration routes and in wintering areas.

However, the most common cause seems to be accidental poisoning: vultures eat poisoned bait meant for predators like foxes and wolves, or consume dead poisoned predators and dead livestock treated with medicines that are harmful to them.

Electrocution is another major threat, especially in the wintering grounds in semi-desert areas, where there is a lack of places to roost, leading vultures to perch on electricity poles. A 30 kilometre-long line between Port Sudan and Red Sea coast – called the ‘killer power line’ is estimated to have electrocuted hundreds and perhaps thousands of Egyptian vultures since its construction in the 1950s.

The Port Sudan power line was considered the single most major known threat before being decommissioned last year. It was replaced by a new fully insulated and bird-safe line, thanks to the joint efforts of the UNDP/GEF Migratory Soaring Birds project, the Sudanese Wildlife Society, the BSPB (BirdLife Bulgaria), and the support of the Sudanese Government and electricity distribution and transmission companies.

A recent telemetry study in the Balkans also showed that about half of the juveniles (young vultures) die during their first migration, mainly because of sub-optimal navigation (some birds try to cross the Mediterranean sea), and in lesser extent because of direct persecution in Africa (due to their use in traditional medicine).

What is being done

The partners of the LIFE+ project to protect Egyptian Vulture in Bulgaria and Greece, The Return of the Neophron – the BSPB (BirdLife’s Bulgarian partner), HOS (BirdLife’s Greek partner), WWF Greece and RSPB (BirdLife’s UK partner), in cooperation with The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Raptors MoU (which promotes internationally coordinated actions to reverse population declines of migratory birds of prey throughout the African-Eurasian region) held a workshop this July in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Seventy conservationists, researchers and representatives from 33 countries attended to help develop an International Egyptian Vulture Flyway Action Plan. The plan will guide trans-continental cooperation and the implementation of conservation measures to ensure the survival of the Egyptian Vulture in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Middle East and Africa, which shelter about 40% of the global population. In fact, in some countries like Oman and Yemen, the population is stable and even increasing.

BirdLife is also working with its partners to tackle the threats faced by African vultures, including the Egyptian. Watch this space to learn more about our African Vulture Campaign, come October.