Urgent Actions to Strengthen the Balkan Population of the Egyptian Vulture and Secure Its Flyway (LIFE16NAT/BG/000874)

The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is a long-distance migratory vulture with a wide range that includes breeding and wintering areas in parts of south and east Europe, west Asia and Africa. Like other Vultures, they predominantly feed on carrionand through their feeding habits; they play a very vital role in the ecosystem by preventing the spread of contagious diseases from carcass of dead animals to human communities. Vultures are often referred to as “nature’s clean-up crew”, providing this cleaning service for free, hence saving us lots of money that would have to be spent to rid the environment of these carcasses or for medical care in cases where filthy environments lead disease outbreaks.

In Nigeria, Egyptian Vultures have previously been recorded around the Northern states of Borno, Jigawa, Zamfara and Katsina, to Sokoto and Kebbi where the Hausa people locally call the Egyptian vulture Ungulun Masar (translated as Ungulu - Vulture and Masar - Egypt) or Farin Ungulu (translated Fari – White and Ungulu - vulture). Despite the beneficial role played by the Egyptian vulture in our ecosystem, its population has severely declined in Nigeria. Like elsewhere, this decline has been attributed to wide-ranging threats including poisoning, habitat loss due to human population growth, agricultural practises, direct shooting and persecution, collision with power lines and electrocution, human disturbances at their nest sites, but especially due to belief-based trade and use of their body parts in West Africa.

Between 2011 and 2014, a project was implemented, which sought to put in place very urgent measures to help secure the survival of the Egyptian vulture in Bulgaria and Greece – the major breeding areas for this species. This project was implemented by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) in partnership with the Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS), World Wildlife Fund-Greece (WWF) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). As part of this project, some Egyptian vultures were tagged with a Global Positioning System (GPS) transmitter in order to monitor their migration and movement. Through those GPS transmitter, two of those Egyptian vultures were tracked to the Nigeria-Niger border. Unfortunately, both birds were shot and killed by hunters from Nigeria in 2014. Through the help of researchers associated with the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) located in Jos, Nigeria – West Africa’s foremost institute for conservation and ornithological research - the satellite transmitters on the killed birds were retrieved from Kwalam (Jigawa state) and Minjibir (Kano state). These deliberate killings highlights the critical threats that this species continues to face in West Africa and especially Nigeria, indicating the challenge associated with their conservation.

The shooting of these tagged birds and other challenges faced by these vultures outside of their breeding areas further highlighted the need for urgent actions aimed at conserving this species to be extended beyond their breeding range. Consequently, a follow-up project was launched in 2017 to implement urgent actions to not only strengthen the Balkan population of the Egyptian Vulture, but to also secure its population across its flyway (i.e. its breeding and non-breeding habitats). This Egyptian Vvulture - New LIFE Project, launched in July 2017 with financial support from the European Union's LIFE Programme involves institutions and organisations from 14 countries spanning the Balkans, Middle East and Africa. These 14 countries include Bulgaria, Greece, FYR of Macedonia and Albania, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. The main goals of the project are to (1) Reduce adult mortality through: minimizing loss of adults due to deliberate or accidental poisoning and electrocution and collisions with energy infrastructures in the breeding grounds, as well as at congregation sites along the migratory path, (2) Reinforce the breeding population on the Balkans by deploying a targeted pilot restocking programme to boost population recovery, and (3) Increase awareness of and support for Egyptian vulture conservation through relevant stakeholders engagement.

In Nigeria, one of the project partners is the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI). As part of this project, a field team of ornithologists from APLORI will be travelling across the Northern states in Nigeria to survey and monitoring any Egyptian Vulture populations that may still be encountered in this area. Project website: Egyptian vulture project

Project Partners: © Franz Robiller