Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos


Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Endangered. Only a small, very rapidly declining population remains, owing primarily to poisoning and persecution, as well as ecosystem alterations. Data published in 2016 suggests that the population in Africa is declining extremely rapidly, and future population assessments may lead to further uplisting.

Population justification
Data from Mundy et al. (1992) suggest the African population is at least 8,000 individuals, equating to c.5,330 mature individuals. National estimates for Africa include 160-500 individuals in Uganda (Pomeroy et al. 2015), 150-200 pairs in South Africa (Barnes 2000), c.2,000 individuals in Tanzania (Shimelis et al. 2005), 300 pairs in Zimbabwe (Boshoff et al. 1997), 400-500 pairs in Ethiopia (Shimelis et al. 2005), 10-20 pairs in Egypt (Shimelis et al. 2005) and 500 pairs in Namibia (Simmons and Brown, cited in Shimelis et al. 2005). There are an estimated 600 pairs in the Arabian Peninsula (Jennings 2010, cited in Botha et al. 2017). The total population is therefore estimated to be least 9,200 individuals, of which c.6530 are mature individuals, although this may prove to be an overestimate given current trends for this species.

Trend justification
The global population is estimated to be declining at a very rapid rate. Ogada et al. (2016) estimated the population in Africa was declining by 3.5% per year. equating to a decline of 79% over three generations (44.07 years [Bird et al. 2020]) (range: 64-87%). Recent surveys of raptor populations in  northern Botswana support this rate of decline, with a decline of 61% between 1991-1995 and 2015-2016 for this species (Garbett et al. 2018), equating to a decline of 84% over three generations. Assuming a stable population of 1,200 mature individuals in Arabia, and a population of 5,330 mature individuals in Africa in 1992 declining at a rate of 79% over three generations, the global decline is estimated to be 64.5% over three generations (range: 52-71%).

Distribution and population

This species breeds in Egypt, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Eswatini, Saudi Arabia (an increasing population, in excess of 500 individuals [Newton and Shobrak 1993, M. Shobrak in litt. 2000]), United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and possibly Libya (Massa 1999). The species also occurs in The Gambia, northern Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Central African Republic and southern Angola (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is no longer thought to breed in Côte d'Ivoire (G. Rondeau in litt. 2007). It has been extinct in Algeria and Tunisia since the 1930s, and now only small populations remain in southern Egypt, and Mauritania (Mundy et al. 1992). The last records from Morocco concerned two birds in 1972 (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is considered likely to be extinct in Western Sahara, as it has not been recorded there since 1955 (Shimelis et al. 2005). In Nigeria, there has been a major decline since the late 1970s and it may now have been extirpated (Brown 1986, Shimelis et al. 2005). It probably previously bred in Jordan (Evans and Al-Mashaqbah 1996), has largely disappeared where formerly common in Somaliland (Somalia) (A. Jama in litt. 2009), and is considered extinct in Israel, where three birds remained until 1994 (Shimelis et al. 2005).

The species was not recorded during surveys in 2004 in northern Mali and Niger along the same transects that yielded 96 birds in 1971-1973 (Thiollay 2006). The combination of these results with comparable transect surveys from Burkina Faso indicate a decline in abundance of c.97% in rural areas and c.39% in national parks between 1969-1973 and 2003-2004 (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004), and declines of 50% were also recorded between 1978-1986 and 2003-2005 on transects in the Masai Mara, Kenya (Virani et al. 2011). It is suffering a slow decline in southern Africa (Boshoff et al. 1997); the largest conservation area in South Africa (Kruger National Park) contains only approximately 50 nests (Murn and Botha in press) and populations are likely to disappear in South Africa should current levels of exploitation and other pressures continue (McKean et al. 2015). However the population in central Mozambique is probably stable (Parker 2005). There are possibly 1,000 pairs (almost 3,000 individuals) in southern Africa, at least the same in eastern and northeastern Africa, and possibly only c.500 pairs in West Africa and the Sahara, giving a total rough estimate of the African population of at least 8,000 individuals (Mundy et al. 1992). However, given the age of this estimate this may prove to be an overestimate (C. Murn in litt. 2016) as Ogada et al. (2016) estimate a median population decline in Africa of 80% (range: 65-87%) over three generations (45 years).


The species inhabits dry savanna, arid plains, deserts and open mountain slopes (Shimelis et al. 2005), up to 3,500 m (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007). In Ethiopia, it is also found at the edge of forests, having been recorded at Bonga Forest and forest in Bale Mountains National Park in 2007, as well as the Afro-alpine habitats of the national park in 2005 (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007). It ranges widely when foraging (P. Hall in litt. 2000) and is mainly a scavenger, feeding predominantly on any large carcasses or their remains (Mundy 1982, Mundy et al. 1992). It is also known to hunt, probably taking a variety of small reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, and has been observed apparently group-hunting flamingo Phoenicopterus chicks (McCulloch 2006a, 2006b). It builds solitary nests (containing just one egg), often in Acacia (its distribution sometimes being limited by these trees' distribution [Boshoff et al. 1997]), but also in Balanites and Terminalia (Shimelis et al. 2005). It does not breed until at least six years old, then fledging c.0.4 young/pair/year (Mundy et al. 1992). Ringing studies in Namibia have revealed a very low return rate (Simmons and Bridgeford 1997). The species's minimum home range has been suggested to be 8 km2, and this can expand to 15 km2 in some habitats (Shimelis et al. 2005), but it may now be that 80-150km2 may be more appropriate (C. Murn in litt. 2016). In Mozambique, egg-laying occurs from late April until mid-August, with a peak in May and June (Parker 2005). A nest found in Oman contained a small chick in early March, and thought to have fledged in mid-June (Wernery 2009).


Widespread accidental poisoning, largely due to strychnine, used by many farmers for predator control, and more recently carbofuran, has contributed significantly to declines (Brown 1986, P. Hall in litt. 2000, Otieno et al. 2010, C. Kendall in litt. 2012). Several Lappet-faced Vultures were found to have died after feeding on the carcass of a poisoned jackal in Namibia (Komen 2009) and two birds were killed as a result of feeding on a poisoned carcass in Kenya (Kendall and Virani 2012). A mass poisoning event involving at least 15 Lappet-faced Vultures occurred in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe in 2012 (Groom et al. 2012), while another in Botswana in 2019 resulted in the death of 14 Lappet-faced Vultures (BirdGuides 2019). The upper beaks of eight of these birds were removed suggesting that they may be traded for traditional medicine. It is also often mistakenly persecuted as a livestock predator (Brown 1986): one major deliberate poisoning incident killed 86 individuals in Namibia (Simmons 1995)

Other major threats to the species include nest predation by humans, reduced food availability (including the replacement of the traditional "Dabokka" movement of camels with cargo tracks [H. Ibrahim in litt. 2016]) and electrocution (Shimelis et al. 2005). Increasing use of agricultural pesticides may also be a problem for the species (Mundy et al. 1992), including those breeding at Tayma, Saudi Arabia (Shimelis et al. 2005). Nest disturbance, to which it is extremely sensitive (Steyn 1982), may be growing with an increase in forest settlements in Ethiopia (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007) and the increasing recreational use of off-road vehicles (Mundy et al. 1992). In Saudi Arabia, suitable nesting trees may be subject to the most intense human disturbance as shepherds also use the same large trees for shelter for themselves and their livestock (Shobrak 2011). Breeding birds at Tayma could face disturbance from motorised vehicles in the desert (Shimelis et al. 2005). Nest trees are also susceptible to fire and are often pushed over by elephants (Murn and Botha in prep.), although tree availability is not thought to be a limiting factor for the species (Kendall et al. 2017).

The population collapse in West Africa may be a result of higher nest disturbance, local extinctions of wild ungulates through habitat modification and over-hunting, intensified cattle farming in which sick or dying animals are rarely abandoned, and an increase in accidental poisoning (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004, Thiollay 2006), although the latter threat, in particular, requires further study (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). National vaccination campaigns in West Africa have reduced illness in domestic livestock, and sick animals can now be sold off, rather than abandoned, due to the proliferation of markets and abattoirs (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). The species may be hunted for medicine and cultural reasons in West Africa, and some ethnic groups in the sub-region hunt vultures for food, though the impact on this species is unknown (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). It is also thought to be used for traditional medicine in South Africa, with all vultures having the potential for traditional medicine use in southern Africa (McKean et al. 2013, W. Goodwin in litt. 2016) and has been recorded in trade in West and Central African markets (Buij et al. 2016). With 858-1,284 individuals reported to have been traded over a six year period in West Africa, numbers traded represent a potentially significant proportion of the regional population.

In central Mozambique, the population has declined due to a scarcity of game and livestock following the armed conflict of the 1970s and 1980s, and the surviving population continues to be threatened by the over-exploitation of game by poachers (Parker 2005). There are incidences of deliberate poisoning by poachers, due to the belief that the arriving vultures will give away the locations of poached animals (Hancock 2009, Roxburgh and McDougall 2012, Ogada et al. 2015). In Ethiopia, the principal threat to the species is habitat loss on the lowland plains (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007, 2012). Potential introduction of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses may represent a potential future threat to the species.

Conservation actions

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix I & II. Raptors MOU Category 1. The species was put forward as a candidate for the CITES Review of Significant Trade in 2004 (CITES in litt. 2004). It breeds in a number of protected areas within its extensive range. Road surveys in Uganda only recorded the species within protected areas (Pomeroy et al. 2015). Ecological research is ongoing, notably in Saudi Arabia (Newton and Shobrak 1993) and southern Africa (C. Murn in litt. 2016). Following a workshop, a five-year international action plan for the species was published in 2005, with the aims of stabilising or increasing its populations, improving knowledge of its distribution, population size and trends and minimising the impact of human activities at key sites (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is covered by a Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) for the conservation of African-Eurasian vultures (Botha et al. 2017). A comprehensive study of the species in Botswana was planned for 2007 (P. Hancock in litt. 2006), and 221 chicks were marked with patagial tags between 2006 and 2009 (Bridgeford 2009). In 2007, a survey began to establish the extent of diclofenac use for veterinary purposes in Tanzania (BirdLife International 2007), and in 2008 an awareness-raising campaign at a conference of the World Organisation for Animal Health in Senegal led to a resolution being adopted unanimously by more than 160 delegates to "request Members to consider their national situation with the aim to seek measures to find solutions to the problems caused by the administration of diclofenac in livestock" (Woodford et al. 2008). The Hawk Conservancy along with the Endangered Wildlife Trust are currently working on providing training and equipment for anti-poisoning teams so that field staff will have the skills and equipment to respond to and neutralise poisoned carcasses (C. Murn in litt. 2016). In 2008 feeding stations were set up in the south of Egypt, at Shalatin, following the decline of vultures in the area (H. Ibrahim in litt. 2016). The species is listed as locally Vulnerable in Namibia (Simmons and Brown 2015), Endangered in the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (Allan 2015), and Critically Endangered in the National red list for Uganda (WCS 2016). 

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed

Organise coordinated surveys and monitoring throughout its range to clarify population size and decline rates. Conduct further ecological research (Brown 1986, Boshoff et al. 1997, Shobrak in press). Initiate awareness campaigns aimed at farmers, local communities, developers and ecotourists to reduce mortality from persecution, accidental poisoning and disturbance (Boshoff et al. 1997, Harrison et al. 1997, Barnes 2000, Shimelis et al. 2005, Shobrak 2011, Shobrak in press). There is potential for communal conservancies to raise awareness of vulture conservation in their constituencies in Namibia (Craig et al. 2018). Identify important nesting areas (Shimelis et al. 2005). Carry out research into the effects of nest disturbance (Shimelis et al. 2005) and nest loss (Murn in prep.). Improve awareness amongst utilities and NGOs of hazardous pylon designs and suitable measures to prevent collisions through training courses and literature such as posters and best practice manuals (Shimelis et al. 2005). Increase awareness amongst farmers of suitable reservoir and drinking trough modification methods (Shimelis et al. 2005). Enforce legislation concerned with incorrect use of poisons and pesticides (Shimelis et al. 2005). Carry out research into the impacts of different poisons across its range (Shimelis et al. 2005). Study the impact of the species on livestock numbers and share information with stakeholders (Shimelis et al. 2005). Enact legislation against the persecution of the species (Shimelis et al. 2005). Encourage vulture feeding sites and the abandonment of livestock carcasses from death by natural causes (Shimelis et al. 2005). 

Provide enforcement for existing nature reserves in West Africa and design of a new one in northern Mali (Thiollay 2006). In West Africa, determine the severity of accidental poisoning, hunting of the species for medicine and cultural reasons, hunting for food, and the threat from the development of powerlines (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). Complete a vulture census for West Africa (Anderson 2005). Eliminate the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa. A number of recommendations were produced at the 2012 Pan-Africa Vulture Summit (Botha et al. 2012, Ogada et al. 2016): 1) Regulate import, manufacture and sale of poisons; 2) Legislate and enforce measures to prosecute those involved in illegal killing and trade in vulture species; 3) Protect and effectively manage breeding sites; 4) Ensure new energy infrastructure is "vulture-friendly" and modify existing unsafe infrastructure; 5) Support activities to conserve vulture populations, including research and outreach activities. For a comprehensive list of conservation and research actions needed, see Botha et al. (2017). 


78-115 cm. Very large, long- and square-winged vulture. In flight, very black-looking with white thighs and white bar running across leading edge of underwing (from body to "wrist"). Naked, pinkish-skinned head. Similar spp. Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus is half the size. Voice Various hisses and cackles given at nest and, in aggression, at food, but less vocal than Gyps vultures. Hints Larger wingspan than any other vulture in Africa. Over much of its range, it mainly inhabits semi-arid or desert areas with only scattered trees and short grass (Mundy et al. 1992). Frequently seen in most large protected areas in eastern and southern Africa, particularly in Namibia. It is generally a sociable species, congregating at carcasses.


Text account compilers
Haskell, L.

Bowden, C., Hall, P., Hancock, P., Rondeau, G., Shimelis, A., Shobrak, M., Thiollay, J.-M., Kendall, C., Brouwer, J., Jama, A., Mundy, P., Rainey, H., Goodwin, W., Mhlanga, W., Murn, C., Ibrahim, H., Ashpole, J, Evans, M., Westrip, J.R.S., Symes, A., Khwaja, N., Ekstrom, J., Martin, R., Taylor, J., Pilgrim, J. & Wheatley, H.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Torgos tracheliotos. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 02/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 02/12/2022.