Justification of Red List Category
This species has a moderately small population which appears to be suffering an ongoing decline in its Asiatic strongholds, despite the fact that in parts of Europe numbers are now increasing. Consequently it qualifies as Near Threatened.
The global population is estimated to number 8,400-11,400 pairs, equating to 16,800-22,800 mature individuals, or c. 25,200-34,200 individuals. This consists of 2,900-3,400 pairs in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.) and 5,500-8,000 pairs in Asia (Anon. 2004). The population in Korea has been estimated at c.50-10,000 wintering individuals (Brazil 2009).
Although the European population is increasing, the much larger Asian population appears to be in decline. Overall, a slow to moderate and on-going decline is suspected.
This species breeds in Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, north India, northern Pakistan (A. Khan, A. Parveen and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005), Mongolia and mainland China, with a small reintroduced population in France (Heredia 1996b; V. Galushin in litt. 1999; Heredia et al. 1997; WWF Greece 1999). It was considered to occasionally breed in Portugal, North Macedonia and Albania, but no longer breed in Slovenia, Italy, Cyprus, Moldova and Romania. However, the species was seen in Romania, Italian eastern Alps, and in northern France recently, as well as being recorded in a rehabilitation center in Jordan (Bowden and Botha 2017). Recolonisation was also confirmed in Portugal following reintroduction programmes (Bowden and Botha 2017). Further monitoring is thus required to confirm its presence across south-western Europe. There are wintering areas in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, north-west India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Lao People's Democratic Republic, North Korea and South Korea. Its global population is estimated to number 8,400-11,400 pairs, with 2,900-3,400 pairs in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.) and 5,500-8,000 (Anon. 2004) pairs in Asia. In Europe, populations are increasing in Spain (minimum 1,500 pairs [Barov and Derhé 2011]), Portugal and France (Barov and Derhé 2011) as well as Greece (BirdLife International 2015). Populations are stable in Macedonia (Barov and Derhé 2011). Numbers are decreasing or fluctuating in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine (BirdLife International 2004; Barov and Derhé 2011; BirdLife International 2015), though new nesting areas have been recently found in Turkey (Kirazli and Yamaç 2013). A recent study moreover suggests that the Turkish population (the largest in the Western Palearctic) is likely to number c. 112 individuals, existing as a single subpopulation (Çakmak et al. 2019a). Overall, the European population underwent a large increase between 1990 and 2000, possibly >30% overall (BirdLife International 2004; I. Burfield in litt. 2005) and increased from 1,330-1,874 in 1993-1996 to 1,995-2,852 in 2000-2010 (Barov and Derhé 2011). The current European population trend is increasing (BirdLife International in prep.).
Much less information is available regarding the status and population trends of the species in Asia, where the bulk of the global population resides. There are probably over 1,000 pairs in the Asian part of Russia and a further 1,760 pairs in China (Ye Xiao-Ti 1991). It appears that breeding populations are more or less stable in Mongolia (where the species is described as common [N. Batbayar in litt. 2005]) and Pakistan (A. Khan, A. Parveen and R. Yasmeen in litt. 2005) (where it is described as scarce), although fluctuations in distribution and breeding success occur, and populations within some nature reserves in Mongolia (where there are few domestic livestock) are declining (N. Batbayar in litt. 2005). In Kazakhstan, however, populations of all vulture species are in severe decline, owing to a precipitous decline in their main food resource, the Saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica) (W. Fremuth in litt. 2005). This trend may be mirrored in a number of other central Asian countries where populations of both domesticated livestock and wild ungulates have declined greatly in recent years (T. Katzner in litt. 2005). Very little is known about population trends on its wintering grounds, although, in Nepal, wintering populations are declining in the east and possibly increasing in the west (but this may be due to better coverage) (Inskipp et al. 2016). It may be increasing in India (T. Katzner in litt. 2005) and South Korea (Lee et al. 2006).
The species inhabits forested areas in hills and mountains at 300-1,400 m in Spain, but higher in Asia, where it also occupies scrub and arid and semi-arid alpine steppe and grasslands up to 4,500 m (Thiollay 1994). It forages over many kinds of open terrain, including forest, bare mountains, steppe and open grasslands. Nests are built in trees or on rocks (the latter extremely rarely in Europe but more frequently in parts of Asia), often aggregated in very loose colonies or nuclei. Its diet consists mainly of carrion from medium-sized or large mammal carcasses, although snakes and insects have been recorded as food items. Live prey is rarely taken. In Mongolia, at least, the species is reliant on livestock numbers for successful nesting (Batbayar et al. 2006).
The two main threats to the species are direct mortality caused by humans (either accidentally or deliberately) and decreasing availability of food. The main cause of unnatural death is the use of poisoned baits for predator extermination (Anon. 2004b), although shooting and destruction of nests also occurs (Anon. 2004b; N. Batbayar in litt. 2005), and they may accidentally get caught in traps set for other predators (Zhatkanbaev 2011). Shooting and poisoning are increasing in Mongolia (N. Batbayar in litt. 2005), and many birds are trapped or shot in China for their feathers. There are fears that veterinary application of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac, which has caused the near-extinction of several Gyps vultures in India, may have a negative impact on A. monachus (N. Batbayar in litt. 2005; Inskipp et al. 2016), particularly as increasing numbers of the species are wintering in northern India (T. Katzner in litt. 2005). The recent approval for commercialisation of veterinary diclofenac in Spain may have devastating effects on European vultures - in 2020 a Cinereous Vulture was confirmed as the first individual to die from veterinary diclofenac in Europe (BirdLife 2021). A study in central Spain during 2003-2005 found high concentrations of antibiotics in blood samples from 57% of nestlings tested (Lemus et al. 2008). The same study found two antibiotics in the liver samples of all dead nestlings that were tested. It is hypothesised that antibiotic residues, particularly quinolones, cause liver and kidney damage, deplete lymphoid organs and alter bacteria flora, facilitating pathogenic bacterial and fungal infections (Lemus et al. 2008). The anti-inflammatory drug nimesulide, suspected to be highly toxic is also considered to be present widely across Nepal (C. Bowden in litt. 2018). In Europe, decreased food availability was formerly caused by European Union legislation on carcass disposal (Anon. 2004b), however, recently passed regulations will allow the operation of feeding stations for scavengers (A. Brunner in litt. 2010). In eastern Europe and central Asia, particularly in the former Soviet Union, changes in agricultural practices and human migration from the countryside to the cities have greatly reduced numbers of domestic livestock. In Georgia and Armenia, declines may be linked to the loss of subsidies for sheep-herding in the post-Soviet era (M. McGrady in litt. 2007). Additionally, there have been steep declines in many populations of wild ungulates which provide a major food source for the species. The Saiga antelope (Saiga tartarica), for example, numbered over one million individuals ten years ago, and has now been reduced to a population of 30,000-40,000 owing to uncontrolled hunting and severe winters (W. Fremuth in litt. 2005). In South Korea, food limitation is a serious problem such that the species relies on supplementary food (Lee et al. 2006). Habitat loss is also thought to be important (Anon. 2004). For instance, in Portugal, there may be suitable foraging areas, but nesting sites are limited (Lourenço et al. 2013). The majority of brood losses occur during the incubation period and it is suspected this may be partially due to low and fluctuating temperatures (Batbayar et al. 2006) and so changes in air temperatures resulting from climate change may be a potential future threat to the species. Nest abandonment can also occur as a result of disturbance, for instance cork exploitation (Margalida et al. 2011). Recent studies surrounding the core population of Cinereous Vultures in the Balkans (thought to be genetically distinctive and geographically isolated) also found wind farms to be a potential threat towards the species (Vasilakis et al. 2016). Where operational wind farms existed, collision mortality was thought to affect c. 5-11% of the core population (Vasilakis et al. 2016). Low mitochondrial diversity and demographic bottlenecks were also found in Turkish populations, likely preventing population expansion (Çakmak et al. 2019a, b). The exact effect genetic vulnerability however requires further investigation. Due to proximity to urban areas, electric shocks and collision can further impact migratory birds, especially across the species's migration route to China (Ming 2019).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. EU Birds Directive Annex I. CMS Appendix II. Raptors MOU Category 1. A Multi-species Action Plan for African-Eurasian Vultures has been produced (Botha et al. 2017). The Flyway Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cinereous Vulture (CVFAP) was additionally finalised in 2017 (Andevski et al. 2017). The EU Birds Directive has contributed to the recovery and conservation of the species in Europe, particularly Spain (see Moreno-Opo and Margalida 2014), where the population has increased from an estimated 290 pairs in 1984 to 2,068 pairs in 2011 (BirdLife International 2015). Co-operation between Spanish government agencies and conservationists under the 'Antidote Programme' also appears to have been effective in mitigating the effects of poisoned baits. Both the Spanish and the Andalusian Governments have produced anti-poisoning strategies, but the former still remain to be financially supported while the latter need more decisive official endorsement. A reintroduction project in Grands Causses, southern France has resulted in the establishment of a small breeding population (16 pairs were breeding in 2006 [Eliotout et al. 2007]) with good prospects. Following further transfer of eight Cinereous Vultures from Spain to France, in 2017, 35 breeding pairs were subsequently observed, with confirmed recolonisation in the Alentejo Region of Portugal (Bowden and Botha 2017). The species has also been seen in Romania, Italian eastern Alps, and in northern France, as well as a recent record in a rehabilitation center in Jordan (Bowden and Botha 2017). Supplementary feeding programmes have been initiated in Spain and France to provide a safe, poison-free food source, although there are concerns that the species may be not very prone to feed at conventional feeding stations. Captive breeding populations have also been established (Tewes et al. 1998). In the Balkans, the species has only one stable colony in the Dadia forest reserve in northern Greece, where WWF has long been involved. Supplementary food is also provided in Bulgaria for breeding birds (Anon. 2007) and South Korea during the winter, which may be the factor attracting birds from Mongolia (Lee et al. 2006). In eastern Europe and central Asia, fewer conservation actions are known, although the species occurs within a number of protected areas in the region. The Balkan Vulture Action Plan aims to transfer expertise and technology relating to the conservation of the species from western to eastern parts of Europe (Anon. 2004b). In Nepal in 2006, a ban was introduced on the production and importation of diclofenac for veterinary use and pharmaceutical firms were encouraged to promote a safe alternative called meloxicam (Swan et al. 2006). The use of diclofenac has since declined by 90% across parts of Nepal; however its complete elimination from the scavenger food chain has yet to be achieved (Gilbert et al. 2007). The Government of Nepal endorsed the first Vulture Conservation Action Plan (VCAP) for Nepal (2009-13), and a second was launched in 2015. Approaches include: advocating additional bans on NSAIDs; continual education programmes; continual monitoring of NSAID use; swapping diclofenac with meloxicam; collection of veterinarian pledges to stop using diclofenac; operation, maintenance and expansion of vulture-safe feeding sites. Diclofenac-free Zones have been created in 46 Districts covering a total area of 101,160 km2 (68.73% ) of Nepal (DNPWC 2015). Further bans are progressing on aceclofenac in Haryana, India, and ketoprofen and aceclofenac in Bangladesh and Pakistan (C. Bowden in litt. 2018).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Survey to determine the species's status and population trends on breeding grounds outside Europe and on wintering grounds (Anon. 2004b). Research threats, particularly the decline in abundance of prey species. Carry out reintroductions to link up the western and the eastern sub-areas of the present range, following the recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Black Vulture Conservation Foundation; possibly focusing on releasing immature individuals rather than juveniles because they can breed earlier and so lead to faster settlement and breeding in the wild (Mihoub et al. 2014). Develop the captive breeding programme to support both this and future reintroduction and supplementation efforts. Restore wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus populations in the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands (Spain) as this may help to increase food availability, particularly during the breeding period. Promote cooperation and information exchange among people working on the species, both at a national and international level. Remove drugs like diclofenac and other harmful NSAIDs from the environment and control the illicit use of human diclofenac for veterinary purpose (H. S. Baral and C. Inskipp in litt. 2016). Strengthen and enforce legislation regulating trade in pesticides that are used to poison meat baits. Increase the rate of prosecution and the severity of judicial sentences for illegal poisoning. Protect appropriate breeding habitat (e.g. Moreno-Opo et al. 2013). Investigate the extent to which operational wind farms could affect major breeding populations such as core populations in the Balkans (Vasilakis et al. 2016). Provide effective protection to the Turkish population (the largest in the Western Palearctic), specifically during breeding seasons and investigate impact of demographic bottlenecks and low genetic diversity (Çakmak et al. 2019a, b). At the European level, to prevent ecological barriers, stronger integration is needed in environmental policies across political borders (Arrondo et al. 2018).
The European Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cinereous Vulture (2017) provides a comprehensive overview of the conservation and research actions necessary to conserve this species in Europe (Andevski et al. 2017). In addition to the above, the plan recommends: reintroducing or restoring wild ungulate populations; increasing the monitoring of poisoning of vultures; improving legal measures to reduce poisoning incidents; banning lead ammunition; and raising public awareness of the risks to Cinereous Vultures and the positives of maintaining vulture populations.
98-107 cm. Huge, broad-winged vulture, short, often slightly wedge-shaped tail; all dark brown. Juveniles are blackish. One of the largest Old World vultures. Bare skin of head and neck bluish grey; head covered with blackish down. Massive beak. Sexes alike. Voice Little used and quite unspecialised. Calls include croaks, grunts, and hisses when feeding at carcasses; also querulous mewing, loud squalling or roaring during breeding season.
Text account compilers
Haskell, L., Fernando, E., Elliott, N., Hermes, C.
Ashpole, J, Baral, H.S., Batbayar, N., Benstead, P., Bohra, D.L., Brunner, A., Burfield, I., Capper, D., Derhé, M., Fremuth, W., Galushin, V.M., Inskipp, C., Katzner, T., Khan, A.A., McGrady, M., Parveen, A., Taylor, J., Temple, H., Westrip, J.R.S. & Yasmeen, R.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Aegypius monachus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/cinereous-vulture-aegypius-monachus on 04/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 04/06/2023.