Justification of Red List Category
This long-lived species qualifies as Endangered owing to a recent and extremely rapid population decline in India (presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac) combined with severe long-term declines in Europe (>50% over the last three generations [42 years]) and West Africa, plus continuing declines through much of the rest of its African range.
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 3,000-4,700 breeding pairs, equating to 6,000-9,400 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms 25-49% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 18,000-57,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 12,000-38,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.
The species is declining in virtually all parts of its range, apparently for a number of different reasons. In India, it has declined by >90% in the last decade; European populations have declined by 50-79% over the last three generations. Western, eastern and southern African populations also appear to have declined significantly, as do Arabian populations (Jennings 2010).
This species occupies a large range with isolated resident populations in the Cape Verde and Canary Islands in the west (although they may still have some connectivity to the continental population [Agudo et al. 2011]), through Morocco (Amezian and Khamlichi 2015) and parts of West Africa (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001). A small resident population persists in Angola and Namibia. The bulk of the resident population occurs in Ethiopia and East Africa, Arabia and the Indian Subcontinent, while Saharan and Sahelian parts of Africa in Algeria, Niger, northernmost Cameroon, Chad and northern Sudan also hold significant but presumably smaller populations (I. Angelov in litt. 2012). Migratory birds breed in northernmost Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt), southern Europe, from Spain in the west, through the Mediterranean, Turkey, the Caucasus and central Asia to northern Iran, Pakistan, northern India and Nepal. These birds winter within the resident range, and in addition throughout the Sahel region of Africa. Global population estimates for the species are crude, but 3,000-4,700 pairs are estimated in Europe (BirdLife International 2015), <2,000 pairs in central Asia, just a few thousand pairs now in the Indian Subcontinent, perhaps 1,000 pairs in the Middle East, and perhaps 1,000-2,000 pairs in Africa (Thiollay 1989, I. Angelov in litt. 2012). The population size in Europe is estimated to have decreased by 50-79% in 53.4 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). In Spain, which with c.1,300 pairs may support as much as 40% of the European breeding population, the number of territories declined by at least 25% between 1987-2000 (i.e. equating to a decline of >50% over three generations) (Donázar 2004, Del Moral 2009), likely due to high mortality rates (Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2009). The Spanish population was estimated to be stable for the period 1998-2011 (BirdLife International 2015, Tauler et al. 2015), and the adjacent French population appears to be increasing (Lieury et al. 2015), although 2015 appeared to be a bad year there (Vulture Conservation Foundation 2016). Balkan populations are however still declining at 4-8% per year, with the population in Greece having declined by 44-60% over 30 years (Xirouchakis and Tsiakiris 2009, Gruba? et al. 2014, Velevski et al. 2015). Declines are reported from the Middle East (S. Aspinall in litt. 2005), e.g. 50-75% in Israel, however in Oman the population appears stable or increasing (J. Eriksen in litt. 2005, Angelov et al. 2013b, Al Bulushi et al. 2013), although this may be more a reflection of count methods rather than genuine stability in the population. Around 1,900 birds are resident in a stable population on the island of Socotra (Porter and Suleiman 2012). The resident populations within Africa have declined by 5.9% per year over the past 29-36 years (Ogada et al. 2016), including those in Ethiopia and Djibouti (G. Mulholland in litt. 2006, Arkumarev et al. 2014), Kenya (Virani et al. 2011), and Angola and Namibia (where just 10 pairs remain) (R. Simmons in litt. 2006). Across much of Africa residents are outnumbered by migrant European and probably Asian breeders (J. M. Thiollay in litt. 2006, I. Angelov in litt. 2012). The species has gone Extinct in the region of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Taylor et al. 2015), and is Extinct as a breeding species in Namibia (Simmons 2015). Most critically, the species has undergone a catastrophic decline (>35% per year) since 1999 in India, where numbers detected on road transects declined by 68% between 2000 and 2003 (Cuthbert et al. 2006), but the recent ban on Diclofenac may have arrested the decline of the Indian population (Galligan et al. 2014).
Typically nests on ledges or in caves on cliffs (Sarà and Di Vittorio 2003), crags and rocky outcrops, but occasionally also in large trees, buildings (mainly in India), electricity pylons (Naoroji 2006) and exceptionally on the ground (Gangoso and Palacios 2005). Forages in lowland and montane regions over open, often arid, country. Also scavenges at human settlements. Broad diet including carrion, tortoises, organic waste, insects, young vertebrates, eggs and even faeces (Margalida et al. 2012, Dobrev et al. 2015, 2016). Usually solitary, but will congregate at feeding sites, such as rubbish tips, or vulture restaurants (i.e. supplementary feeding stations), and forms roosts of non-breeding birds (Ceballos & Donázar 1990). Performs an energetic display flight with mate. Several resident island populations show genetic isolation. Northern breeders conduct long-distance intercontinental migrations, flying over land and often utilising the narrowest part of the Strait of Gibraltar or the Bosphorus and Dardanelles on their way to Africa (García-Ripollés et al. 2010, López-López et al. 2014, Oppel et al. 2015). The species exhibits high site fidelity, particularly in males (Elorriaga et al. 2009, García-Ripollés et al. 2010, López-López et al. 2014).
This species faces a number of threats across its range. Disturbance, lead poisoning (from ammunition used in hunting game), direct and secondary poisoning, electrocution (by powerlines), collisions with wind turbines, reduced food availability and habitat change are currently impacting upon European populations (Donázar et al. 2002, N. Petkov in litt. 2005, Kurtev et al. 2008, Zuberogoitia et al. 2008, Carrete et al. 2009, Dzhamirzoev and Bukreev 2009, Sara et al. 2009, Angelov et al. 2013a, Mateo-Tomás and Olea 2015, Velevski et al. 2015, Donázar et al. 2016), with juveniles showing higher declines (Clouet et al. 2014) and mainland populations showing higher rates of juvenile mortality than island populations (Sanz-Aguilar et al. 2015a). Illegal poisoning against carnivores seems to be the main threat operating on the breeding grounds in Spain (Hernandez and Margalida 2009, Sanz-Aguillar et al. 2015b) and the Balkans (I. Angelov in. litt. 2012, Oppell et al. 2016). Declines in parts of Africa are likely to have been driven by loss of wild ungulate populations and, in some areas, overgrazing by livestock and improvements in slaughterhouse sanitation (Mundy et al. 1992, Ogada et al. 2016). Within the European Union, regulations introduced in 2002, controlling the disposal of animal carcasses, greatly reduced food availability, notably through the closure of traditional muladares in Spain and Portugal (Donázar 2004, J. C. Atienza in litt. 2007, Donázar et al. 2009, Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2010, Donázar et al. 2010a, Cortés-Avizanda 2011, Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2016). However, recently passed regulations will permit the operation of feeding stations for scavengers and guidelines about how to operate them exist (Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2010, A. Brunner in litt. 2010), and in eastern Europe dietary diversity has no effect on population sizes, but instead could affect territory size (Dobrev et al. 2016). Poisoning is a threat to the species, often through the use of poison baits targeted at terrestrial predators (Carrete et al. 2007, Carrete et al. 2009, Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2009, 2015 Sanz-Aguilar et al. 2015b, Oppel et al. 2016), and through the consumption of poisoned animals. Recent analyses from many countries including Bulgaria (Angelov 2009) have highlighted potential contamination of Egyptian Vultures that may lead to increased mortality. Antibiotic residues present in the carcasses of intensively-farmed livestock may increase the susceptibility of nestlings to disease (e.g. avian pox has been reported as a cause of mortality in Bulgaria [Kurtev et al. 2008]).
It appears that diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses (BirdLife International news [www.birdlife.org/news] 2007), is driving the recent rapid declines in India (Cuthbert et al. 2006, A. Rahmani in litt. 2012, Galligan et al. 2014). NSAIDs are reportedly toxic to raptors, storks, cranes and owls, suggesting that vultures of other genera could be susceptible to its effects (BirdLife International news [www.birdlife.org/news] 2007). It seems plausible that this species previously had less exposure to the toxin owing to competitive exclusion from carcasses by Gyps spp. vultures (Cuthbert et al. 2006). In 2007, diclofenac was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania (BirdLife International news [www.birdlife.org/news] 2007). In addition, it was reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes (C. Bowden in litt. 2007) and exporting it to 15 African countries (BirdLife International news [www.birdlife.org/news] 2007). This drug has recently been approved for veterinary use in Europe, and is commercially available in France and Spain, which is a major concern for the species (Margalida et al. 2014). Mortality at power lines has been found to be particularly common on the Canary Islands (Donazar et al. 2002, Donazar et al. 2007a) and potentially risky in other regions of Spain (Donazar et al. 2007b, 2010b) and in Africa (Nikolaus 1984, 2006), with 17 individuals found killed by electrocution in Port Sudan, over 10 days in 2010 (I. Angelov in litt. 2010, Angelov et al. 2013a), indicating a potentially serious problem that has persisted for decades and will continue to contribute to Egyptian Vulture population declines. In Morocco at least, the species is taken for use in traditional medicine, and it (like all African vultures) may have local commercial value as a traditional medicine throughout Africa (W. Goodwin in litt. 2016). Competition for suitable nest sites with Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus) may reduce breeding success in the short-term (Kurtev et al. 2008).
Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix I and II. Occurs within a number of protected areas across its range. Monitoring programmes, supplementary feeding (Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2010) and campaigns against illegal use of poisons, including awareness-raising, are in place for a number of national populations (Tauler et al. 2015, Lieury et al. 2015, Oppel et al. 2016). The veterinary drug diclofenac has now been banned by the Indian government. In 2007, a survey began to establish the extent of diclofenac use for veterinary purposes in Tanzania (BirdLife International news [www.birdlife.org/news] 2007). Due to the recent legalisation of diclofenac for veterinary use in the EU, there is an active campaign against the use of diclofenac in the European Union (http://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/project/ban-veterinary-diclofenac). An International species action plan for the species was published in 2008 (Iñigo et al. 2008). National species action plans are in place in France, Bulgaria and Italy, and the species is included in the Balkan Vulture Action Plan (BVAP). Efforts are being taken to release captive-bred individuals in parts of Italy. In Spain, France, Italy, Bulgaria and Macedonia birds have been fitted with satellite-tags to study juvenile dispersion, migratory movements and wintering areas (e.g. García-Ripollés et al. 2010, López-López et al. 2014, Oppell et al. 2015). Nest guarding schemes for pairs that are most threatened by poachers have been implemented in Italy and Bulgaria, where very small populations survive (Zuberogoitia et al. 2014, Oppel et al 2016). Expeditions to study the limiting factors in the wintering areas and along the migration flyway have taken place together with local organizations in Mauritania, Senegal, Ethiopia, Sudan and Turkey (Arkumarev et al. 2014, Oppel et al. 2014). A training seminar was held in Ethiopia to help build capacity for conservation of the species on its African wintering grounds (Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds 2013). A multi-species action plan for African-Eurasian vultures is underway, and an international Flyway Action Plan for the Central Asian and Balkan populations was initiated in 2015 in Bulgaria, encompassing the Balkans, Central Asia, Middle East, and East Africa (S. Oppell in litt. 2016). It is considered critically endangered in Uganda (WCS 2016).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Start and maintain intensive cooperation with local stakeholders to ensure poison- and poaching-free zones at sites with high densities or congregations of the species throughout the breeding, migration and wintering range, alongside similar efforts for other threatened species. Build capacity in countries along the migration flyways and in the wintering areas. Protect nest sites where persecution is a problem. Research the causes and extent of current declines across the species's range. Insulate dangerous electricity pylons in areas where high mortality is recorded. Coordinate monitoring to assess trends throughout the range. Relax the European Union sanitary regulations in relation to carcass disposal. Establish supplementary feeding sites based on rigorous scientific knowledge and under adaptive and appropriate management (Moreon-Opo et al. 2015, Cortés-Avizanda et al. 2016). Raise awareness amongst pastoralists of the dangers of using diclofenac for livestock (BirdLife International news [www.birdlife.org/news] 2007). Effectively reduce risks of poisoning through strict enforcement of poison-bait ban and education. Lobby for the banning of diclofenac for veterinary purposes throughout the species's range, and support the enforcement of this ban where it has been adopted. Where applicable, establish the impact of wind turbines, and lobby for effective impact assessments to be carried out prior to their construction. Where appropriate, guard nests to reduce disturbance. Confiscate illegally kept live birds and use them for the purposes of captive breeding and future restocking and reintroduction programmes. In key areas of the species's range, implement long-term and large-scale education and community involvement programmes.
55-65 cm. Wingspan 155-170 cm. Medium-large. Characteristic flight silhouette with broad, well-fingered wings and a wedge-shaped tail. Yellow face and base to the bill with a black tip. Plumage is pale grey with some buff on the head and neck. Primaries and secondaries are black showing contrast with underwing-coverts below and unique white centres above. Juveniles are largely dark brown with contrasting area of pale buff.
Text account compilers
Bird, J., Ashpole, J, Wheatley, H., Symes, A., Butchart, S., Taylor, J., Khwaja, N., Derhé, M., Westrip, J., Pople, R.
Abdusalyamov, I., Barlow, C., Atienza, J., Kolbintzev, V., Angelov, I., Kovshar, A., Baral, H., Buketov, M., Aspinall, S., Keuzberg-Makhina, E., Pomeroy, D., Grande, J., Subramanya, S., Khan, A., Mitropolskyi, O., Petkov, N., Cortes, J., Matekova, G., Porter, R., Efimenko, N., Mulholland, G., Fundukchiev, S., Lanovenko, E., Eriksen, J., Hatzofe, O., Goodwin, W., Mitropolskyi, M., Cuthbert, R., Belyalova, L., Stoynov, E., Bukreev, S., Galushin, V., Sklyarenko, S., Cortés-Avizanda, A., Grubac, B., Ibrahim, H., Mischenko, A., Oppel, S., Velevski, M., Soldatova, N., Madroño, A., Koshkin, A., Katzner, T., Brunner, A., Monteiro, A., Rahmani, A., Camina, A., Barov, B., Wolstencroft, J., Simmons, R., Khrokov, V., Isfendiyaroglu, S., Kashkarov, R., Tewes, E., Bowden, C., Thiollay, J., Bustamov, E.
BirdLife International (2018) Species factsheet: Neophron percnopterus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/01/2018. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2018) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/01/2018.