Projects:White-headed Vultures in southern Africa - a biological study

White-headed Vulture feeding ecology
White-headed Vulture distribution
White-headed Vulture relationships

This project is run as a partnership between the Hawk Conservancy Trust and the Birds of Prey Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (South Africa). It is registered with South Africa National Parks and is part of the Centre for Wildlife Assessment and Conservation (CWAC) at the University of Reading, England. Fieldwork is currently concentrated in Kruger National Park South Africa and in central Mozambique with the generous support of Bahati Adventures. The White-headed Vulture Project is part of the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s International Vulture Programme.

Background

The White-headed Vulture Aegypius (Trigonoceps) occipitalis (WhV) is the least well-known vulture species in Africa. There has been no comprehensive study done of this species and, compared with other vultures, relatively little is known about its basic biology. Key features such as feeding ecology and factors affecting breeding performance remain poorly understood.

In 2007, the category of risk assigned to the WhV by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) increased to ‘Vulnerable’ (BirdLife International, 2007). This assessment incorporates recently reported severe declines in West Africa. These declines have exceeded 60% in protected areas, whilst the species has completely disappeared from rural areas (Rondeau & Thiollay 2004; Thiollay 2006; Thiollay 2007).

In southern Africa the population was estimated to number 500 pairs (Mundy, 1997) and has been revised more recently to 430 pairs (Monadjem, 2004). Zimbabwe holds a significant proportion of the regional breeding population (Mundy, 1997), whilst in South Africa, the Kruger National Park and neighbouring conservation areas contain the largest population of WhVs in South Africa (Tarboton et al., 1987; Anderson, 2000). In southern Africa, the species is largely confined to conservation areas (Anderson, 2000; Piper, 2005).

It is essential to understand the reasons why protected areas are so important for White-headed Vultures, particularly compared to other vulture species. Overall, vultures are a key ecological group currently facing a variety of threats across their range. Understanding their ecological requirements and how these relate to ecosystem function is an important component of overall biodiversity conservation and management.

Objectives

There are four primary areas of investigation for the White-headed Vulture project:

  1. Breeding and foraging habitat associations
  2. Inter-specific relationships
  3. Feeding ecology
  4. The role of sexual dimorphism

Please contact Campbell Murn, Head of Conservation and Research at the Trust, for any queries about this project – campbell@hawkconservancy.org

REFERENCES

  • Anderson, M.D. (2000). White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis. In: Barnes, K.N. (Ed.). The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. (pp 79-81). BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
  • BirdLife International (2007) Species factsheet: Trigonoceps occipitalis. Accessed http://www.birdlife.org on 18/1/2008
  • Monadjem, A. (2004) White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis. In: Monadjem, A., Anderson, M. D., Piper, S. E. & Boshoff, A. F. (Eds) The Vultures of Southern Africa – Quo Vadis? Proceedings of a workshop on vulture research and conservation in southern Africa. (pp 34-39) Birds of Prey Working Group, Johannesburg.
  • Mundy, P. J. (1997) White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis. In: Harrison, J. A., Allan, D. G., Underhill, L. G., Herremans, M., Tree, A. J., Parkers, V., & Brown, C. J. (Eds) The atlas of southern African Birds. Vol. 1: Non-passerines. (pp: 164-165) BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
  • Piper, S. E. (2005) White-headed Vulture Aegypius occipitalis. In: Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ, Ryan PG (eds) 2005 Roberts – Birds of Southern Africa, VIIth ed. (pp 492-493) The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.
  • Rondeau, G. & Thiollay, J. M. (2004) West African vulture decline. Vulture News 51: 13-31
  • Tarboton, W. R., Kemp, M. I. & Kemp, A. C. (1987) Birds of the Transvaal. Transvaal Museum, Pretoria
  • Thiollay, J.M. (2006) Severe decline of large birds in the Northern Sahel of West Africa: a long term assessment. Bird Conservation International 16: 353-365
  • Thiollay, J.M. (2007) Raptor population decline in West Africa. Ostrich 78: 405-413
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