Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres


Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN Red list criteria met and history
Red List criteria met
Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable
- - A2acde+3cde+4acde; C2a(ii)

Red List history
Year Category Criteria
2021 Vulnerable A2acde+3cde+4acde; C2a(ii)
2016 Endangered A2acde+3cde
2015 Endangered A2acde+3cde+4cde
2013 Vulnerable C1+2a(ii)
2012 Vulnerable C1+2a(ii)
2008 Vulnerable C1; C2a(ii)
2006 Vulnerable
2004 Vulnerable
2000 Vulnerable
1996 Vulnerable
1994 Vulnerable
1988 Threatened
Species attributes

Migratory status full migrant Forest dependency Low
Land mass type Land-mass type - continent
Average mass -

Estimate Data quality
Extent of Occurrence breeding/resident (km2) 1,230,000 medium
Extent of Occurrence non-breeding (km2) 3,380,000 medium
Number of locations -
Severely Fragmented -
Population and trend
Value Data quality Derivation Year of estimate
No. of mature individuals 9600-12800 good estimated 2021
Population trend Decreasing good estimated -
Decline (3 years/1 generation past) - - -
Decline (5 years/1 generation past) - - -
Decline (10 years/1 generation past) - - -
Decline (10 years/3 generation future) 30-49 - - -
Decline (10 years/3 generation past and future) 30-49 - - -
Number of subpopulations 1 - - -
Percentage in largest subpopulation 100 - - -
Generation length (yrs) 13.9 - - -

Population justification: In 2006, the total population was estimated at 8,000-10,000 individuals (M. Diekmann in litt. 2006), roughly equivalent to 5,300-6,700 mature individuals. The global population estimate has been revised with an estimate of 4,700 pairs or 9,400 mature individuals (Allan 2015). Based on surveys, Hirschauer et al. (2020) estimated that the species's stronghold in the north-east, contained 3,560 breeding pairs, and that the stronghold contained 56-74% of the global population of mature individuals. 

If the 3,560 breeding pairs represent 56% of the population, then the global population size may equate to 6,357 breeding pairs (12,714 mature individuals). If the stronghold represents 74% of the population, the global population size may equate to 4,810 breeding pairs (9,621 mature individuals). The population size is therefore placed in the band of 9,621-12,714 mature individuals, rounded here to 9,600 - 12,800 mature individuals.

Trend justification: Barnes (2000) estimated that the population declined by 10% between 1994-1995, which when expanded over 3 generation lengths (41.7 years [Bird et al. 2020]) equates to a decline rate of 58.4%. McKean and Botha (2007) also suggested that between 1992-2007, the populations in eastern South Africa declined by 60-70%, equivalent to a rate of 92-96% over 3 generation lengths, if the trend continued for that period. However, there is now evidence to suggest that the colonies have been increasing post 2007.

The north-eastern breeding region is likely to contain 56-74% of the mature individuals and is arguably the species stronghold (Hirschauer et al. 2020). In 1985, the best population estimate for the north-east region was 2,987 pairs. In 2019, the population was estimated at 3,560 pairs (Hirschauer et al. 2020), indicating that over the 34 years, the population in the stronghold has been stable to increasing. Between 2012-2019, 6 out of 10 colonies in the region were monitored every year by Hirschauer et al. (2020). During that time, the population at these colonies increased from a total of 1,561 breeding pairs in 2012 to 2,152 in 2019. This is an increase of c.38% in 7 years, equivalent to 4.7% per annum, however the smallest colony at Moletjie decreased during that time (Hirschauer et al. 2020). Data collected by Wolter et al. (2016) also suggests that multiple colonies in South Africa and Botswana are stable or increasing. This is further supported by Goikantswemang et al. (2021). The chick count at the Blouberg colony, the largest known breeding colony, has increased from 626 chicks in 2006, to 1,483 chicks in 2020 (J. van Wyk and D. Pretorius via A. Botha in litt. 2021). The Potberg colony in the south has also steadily increased c.2010-2019 (Hirschauer et al. 2020). 

Longer-term studies have also evidenced population increases. One of the largest colonies in the north-east is the Kransberg colony (Hirschauer et al. 2020). Analysis by Benson and McClure (2020) found that this population declined between 1983-2003 from 916 pairs to 579 pairs (a rate of decline of 2.25% per annum). Between 2004 and 2017, the colony then increased from c.579 pairs to 849 pairs (a rate of increase of 2.65% per annum). The overall trend of the colony from 1983-2017 was a decline at a rate of 0.24% per annum (Benson and McClure 2020). Over three generations, a 0.24% pa decline equates to a 9.5% reduction. While the authors of this study state that globally, the Cape Vulture population is in decline, they also project that if the overall trend of 1983-2017 continues, the Kransberg colony will likely be stable. They alternatively project that if the 2004-2017 trend continues, there is a 98% likelihood that the Kransberg population will increase into the future (Benson and McClure 2020). 

The composite index by Ogada et al. (2016) suggested an annual rate of decline of 5.1% for this species, and an equating projected decline of 89% over 3 generations. However, according to Benson and McClure (2020), the data used by Ogada et al. (2016) was collected pre-2000, and consequently would not have taken into account the population increases in the Kransberg colony. Therefore, if the northern colonies are increasing, such a high decline is unlikely to be correct (K. Shaw in litt. 2015). Benson and McClure (2020) also found that when they added the trends for 1983-2017 and 1983-2003 to the index, the trend inference remained the same as Ogada et al. (2016). However, when they added the 2004-2017 trend, the uncertainty of the model greatly increased, and the trend switched from almost certainly declining to possibly increasing. 

The south-eastern breeding region, which may hold up to 42% of the breeding individuals (Allan et al. 2015), has contracted, and the peripheral colonies in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Eswatini have all been extirpated within the last 40 years (Hirschauer et al. 2020). However, the remaining colonies have shown increases in the number of active nests between 2000-2013 (Benson 2015). Data from the Oribi Gorge colony in South Africa indicates that the number of breeding pairs has increased from 39 in 2011, to 94 in c.2019 (K. Shaw in litt. 2021). 
Numbers at some colonies appear to have dropped between 2020 and 2021, with a reduction of 27% at Skeerpoort, 16% at Kransberg, and 8% at Manutsa (Wolter et al. unpublished data via R. Kemp, K. Wolter and C. G. Hannweg in litt. 2021). However, this may have been due to emigration to other colonies or other specific factors relation to this particular breeding season, and it is difficult to draw any conclusions from this in comparison to the long-term trend data (W. Goodwin in litt. 2021). 

Allan (2015) estimated that the species declined by 66-81% between c.1960-2015, equivalent to a rate of decline of 55-71% over 3 generations. However, these figures relied on individuals not moving between breeding colonies (P. Benson in litt. 2016). Genetic evidence from Kleinhans and Willows-Munro (2019) suggests that the south-eastern region facilitates movement between the north-east, and the geographically isolated Potberg colony in the west, and therefore the rate of decline may not be so high.

While the population overall is declining (Benson and McClure 2020), the overall rate of decline is unlikely to be as high as previously thought. Previous estimates of rates of decline range from 55-96% [55-71% (Allan 2015), 58.4% (Barnes 2000), 89% (Ogada et al. 2016) and 92-96% (McKean and Botha 2007)]. However, the figure from McKean and Botha (2007) was from the north-eastern population, which is not the species stronghold, and the models used by Ogada et al. (2016) to derive their figure did not account for recorded population increases. Therefore, they are not likely to be representative of the true global decline rate. Furthermore, the declines suggested by Allan (2015) are dependent on there being no movement between populations, and evidence now confirms that there is cross movement, and that the suggested figures are likely too high. While rates of decline may vary in different areas, taking into consideration the inefficacy of previous models, new information on population dynamics, and evidence of recent increases in stronghold colonies, it is suspected that the rate of decline likely falls in the band 30-49% Given that the threats causing declines are likely to continue, it is tentatively assumed that the decline will continue at the same rate into the future.

Country/territory distribution
Country/Territory Occurrence status Presence Resident Breeding Non-breeding Passage
Angola N Extant Yes
Botswana N Extant Yes
Congo, The Democratic Republic of the V Extant
Eswatini N Extant Yes
Lesotho N Extant Yes
Mozambique N Extant Yes
Namibia N Extant Yes
South Africa N Extant Yes
Zambia V Extant Yes
Zimbabwe N Extant Yes

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA)
Country/Territory IBA Name
Botswana Mannyelanong Hill
Botswana Tswapong Hills
Lesotho Liqobong
Lesotho Upper Senqu River
Lesotho Mafika - Lisiu
Lesotho Sehonghong and Matebeng
Lesotho Sehlabathebe National Park
Lesotho Upper Quthing Valley
Mozambique Maputo Special Reserve
Mozambique Changelane river gorge
Namibia Waterberg Plateau Park
South Africa Kruger National Park and adjacent areas
South Africa Soutpansberg
South Africa Blouberg
South Africa Waterberg System
South Africa Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Pilanesberg National Park
South Africa Magaliesberg
South Africa Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve
South Africa Golden Gate Highlands National Park
South Africa Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
South Africa Maloti Drakensberg Park
South Africa KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Grasslands
South Africa Greater Ingwangwana River
South Africa Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
South Africa Umtamvuna Nature Reserve
South Africa Mkhambati Nature Reserve
South Africa Collywobbles Vulture Colony
South Africa De Hoop Nature Reserve
Zimbabwe Hwange National Park
Zimbabwe Wabai Hill (Debshan Ranch)
South Africa Overberg Wheatbelt
South Africa Pondoland Cape Vulture
South Africa Port Elizabeth complex
South Africa Great Fish
South Africa East London and south
South Africa Camdeboo complex
South Africa Mountain Zebra National Park complex
South Africa Fort Fordyce Reserve complex
South Africa Pearston Escarpment
South Africa Katberg complex
South Africa Hogsback - Stutterheim
South Africa Queenstown highlands
South Africa Palaborwa
South Africa Orpen
South Africa Hazyview
South Africa Bushbuckridge
South Africa Indwe - Cala - Ngcobo - Elliot
South Africa Mthatha - Tsolo
South Africa Northern Eastern Cape
South Africa Southern Drakensberg foothills
South Africa Northern Drakensberg foothills
South Africa Greater Itala complex (ZA)
South Africa Oribi Gorge - Mbumbazi complex
South Africa Vernon Crooks corridor
South Africa Ngoye coastal complex
South Africa Umzimkulu complex
South Africa Mistbelt grasslands
South Africa Midlands
South Africa Greater Greytown complex
South Africa Boston area
South Africa Lower Mooi River valley
South Africa Nkandla complex
South Africa Melmoth grasslands
Eswatini Hlane - Mlawula complex (SZ)
Mozambique Namaacha (MZ)
Mozambique Crocodile River
Mozambique Ncomati plain
Mozambique Magude - Muomba
South Africa Bisho
South Africa Middle Kei - Cathcart
South Africa Lower Kei
South Africa Lower Mzimbvubu
South Africa Pondoland North Coast
South Africa Port St John's Forests
South Africa Kei Mouth - Haven
South Africa Mbashe River - Coffee Bay
Eswatini Big Bend - Manzini - Hlathikulu
Eswatini Tshaneni
South Africa Melmoth
South Africa Opathe Imfolozi link
South Africa Hluhluwe - Mkhuze lowveld
South Africa Pongola - Magudu
South Africa Ponta do Ouro (ZA)
Mozambique Hlane - Mlawula complex (MZ)
South Africa Hlane - Mlawula complex (ZA)
South Africa Namaacha (ZA)
Eswatini Namaacha (SZ)
Eswatini Greater Itala complex (SZ)

Habitats & altitude
Habitat (level 1) Habitat (level 2) Importance Occurrence
Artificial/Terrestrial Arable Land suitable non-breeding
Artificial/Terrestrial Arable Land suitable breeding
Artificial/Terrestrial Pastureland major non-breeding
Artificial/Terrestrial Pastureland major breeding
Desert Hot suitable non-breeding
Forest Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland suitable non-breeding
Forest Subtropical/Tropical Moist Lowland suitable breeding
Grassland Temperate major non-breeding
Grassland Temperate major breeding
Rocky areas (eg. inland cliffs, mountain peaks) major breeding
Savanna Dry suitable non-breeding
Savanna Dry suitable breeding
Shrubland Subtropical/Tropical Dry suitable non-breeding
Shrubland Subtropical/Tropical Dry suitable breeding
Altitude 0 - 3100 m Occasional altitudinal limits  

Threats & impact
Threat (level 1) Threat (level 2) Impact and Stresses
Biological resource use Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals - Intentional use (species is the target) Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Majority (50-90%) Rapid Declines Medium Impact: 7
Species mortality
Biological resource use Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals - Persecution/control Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Minority (<50%) Rapid Declines Medium Impact: 6
Species mortality
Biological resource use Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals - Unintentional effects (species is not the target) Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Majority (50-90%) Rapid Declines Medium Impact: 7
Species mortality
Climate change & severe weather Habitat shifting & alteration Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Minority (<50%) Unknown Unknown
Ecosystem degradation
Energy production & mining Renewable energy Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Majority (50-90%) Rapid Declines Medium Impact: 7
Species mortality
Human intrusions & disturbance Recreational activities Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Minority (<50%) Slow, Significant Declines Low Impact: 5
Species disturbance
Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases Problematic native species/diseases Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Minority (<50%) No decline Low Impact: 4
Natural system modifications Other ecosystem modifications Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Minority (<50%) Slow, Significant Declines Low Impact: 5
Ecosystem degradation
Transportation & service corridors Utility & service lines Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Majority (50-90%) Rapid Declines Medium Impact: 7
Species mortality

Purpose Primary form used Life stage used Source Scale Level Timing
Food - human - - Non-trivial Recent
Medicine - human & veterinary - - Non-trivial Recent
Pets/display animals, horticulture - - International Non-trivial Recent

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Gyps coprotheres. Downloaded from on 27/06/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/06/2022.