Rüppell's Vulture Gyps rueppelli


Justification of Red List category
This species has been listed as Critically Endangered due to severe declines in parts of its range. Overall it is suspected to have undergone a very rapid decline owing to habitat loss and conversion to agro-pastoral systems, declines in wild ungulate populations, hunting for trade, persecution, electrocution and collision with powerlines and poisoning.

Population justification

Mundy et al. (1992) estimated a population perhaps of the order of 11,000 pairs, comprising 3,000 pairs in Tanzania, 2,000 in Kenya where ‘up to thousands’ concentrated at favoured sites, 2,000 in Ethiopia where it was said to be ‘common to locally abundant’, 2,000 in Sudan where was the ‘most common vulture in the North’, and 2,000 for West Africa. This could indicate a population of 22,000 mature individuals and perhaps c.30,000 individuals at the start of the 1990s. Subsequent extremely rapid population declines mean that the population is now likely to be much lower.

Trend justification
Recent data suggest this species has experienced a very rapid population decline of c.5.8% per year, equating to 92.5% (range: 88-98%) over three generations (43.32 years [Bird et al. 2020]) (Ogada et al. 2016). Extremely rapid declines have been reported in West Africa (Thiollay 2006; although in Gambia it appears to be stable): during vehicle-based transect surveys in the Sahel zone of Mali and Niger in 2006 the species was not recorded, despite being common during equivalent surveys in the early 1970s. Significant declines appear to have occurred elsewhere in the range, including Sudan (Nikolaus 2006), Uganda (D. Pomeroy in litt. 2006), Kenya (M. Virani in litt. 2006, Virani et al. 2011) and Tanzania (J. Wolstencroft in litt. 2006), but it may be stable in Ethiopia (Nikolaus 2006). Virani et al. (2011) documented an apparent decline of c. 52% over c. 15 years in the numbers of Gyps vultures present during the ungulate migration season, while in central Kenya an apparent decline of 69% was noted in the numbers of Gyps vultures between 2001 and 2003 (Ogada and Keesing 2010). Declines observed in the Masai Mara study may be representative of declines in Gyps populations ranging across East Africa from Southern Ethiopia to Southern Tanzania (C. Kendall in litt. 2012), although this species may be doing slightly better than other Gyps species in the Masai Mara as its relative abundance at carcasses has increased compared to G. africanus (Kendall et al. 2012).

Distribution and population

This species occurs throughout the Sahel region of Africa from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west to Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia in the east. Also south through the savanna regions of East Africa in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Formerly abundant, the species has experienced extremely rapid declines in much of its range, particularly West Africa. Although in Gambia it is apparently stable (C. Barlow in litt. 2006), comparative data have shown some colonies in Mali (J. M. Thiollay in litt. 2006) and South Sudan (Nikolaus 2006) have declined by up to 96% and 100% respectively, and it may no longer occur in Nigeria (no sightings in 2011 in last stronghold of Yankari Game Reserve, nor anywhere else in the country, P. Hall in ltt. 2011). Surveys of the Sudano-Sahelian savannas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, carried out in 1969-1973 and 2003-2004, indicate a drop in the species's abundance from 61.3 birds/100 km to 2.5 birds/100 km (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). It has also declined in Cameroon (87% decline 1973-2000, Thiollay 2001), Uganda (D. Pomeroy in litt. 2006), Kenya (M. Virani in litt. 2006), Somalia (A. Jama in litt. 2011), Malawi (gone from Kasungu and Liwonde National Parks, where previously common, L. Roxburgh in litt. 2011) and Tanzania (J. Wolstencroft in litt. 2006), but may be stable in Ethiopia (Nikolaus 2006). Surveys show very limited populations, especially of breeders, in Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, and Djibouti (J. M. Thiollay in litt 2016; Clouet & Barrau 2013). It is vagrant in southern Africa, with a possible hybrid breeding attempt with Gyps coprotheres at Blouberg, South Africa (W. Goodwin in litt. 2016). Since the 1990s there has been a series of records involving small numbers of individuals in Spain and Portugal; these are believed to have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar with migrating G. fulvus, but breeding is not yet known to have taken place in Iberia. Now largely confined to protected areas throughout its range.


It frequents open areas of Acacia woodland, grassland and montane regions, and it is gregarious, congregating at carrion, soaring together in flocks and breeding mainly in colonies on cliff faces and escarpments at a broad range of elevations. In Kenya, the number of nests at a colony may be inversely related to rainfall in the previous year, and timing of nesting varies from year to year (Virani et al. 2012). It locates food entirely by sight.


The species faces similar threats to other African vultures, being susceptible to habitat conversion to agro-pastoral systems, loss of wild ungulates leading to a reduced availability of carrion, hunting for trade, persecution and poisoning (Ogada et al. 2016). In East Africa, the primary issue is poisoning (particularly from the highly toxic pesticide carbofuran), which occurs primarily outside protected areas; the large range sizes of this and G. africanus puts them both at significant risk as it means they inevitably spend considerable time outside protected areas (Ogada and Keesing 2010, Otieno et al. 2010, Kendall and Virani 2012). In addition, the ungulate wildlife populations on which this species relies have declined precipitously throughout East Africa, even in protected areas (Western et al. 2009). 

In 2007, diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania (BirdLife International 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 2007). The West African population has been heavily exploited for trade, with birds commonly sold in fetish markets (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004, Nikolaus 2006, Buij et al. 2015). It is one of the most commonly traded vultures in West and Central African markets, with numbers traded (1,128-1,692 individuals over a six year period in West Africa) probably representing a significant proportion of the regional population (Buij et al. 2015), with vultures being used in traditional medicine (W. Goodwin in litt. 2016). The Dogon of central Mali climb the Hombori cliffs to take eggs and chicks of this species (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). The decline and possible extirpation in Nigeria appears to be entirely attributable to the trade in vulture parts for traditional juju practices (P. Hall in litt. 2011). It is apparently also captured for international trade. In 2005, 30 birds were reportedly confiscated by the Italian authorities (F. Genero in litt. 2005). Disturbance, especially from climbers, is a particular problem for this species. In Mali, the Hombori and Dyounde massifs are dotted with at least 47 climbing routes, on which expeditions take place every year, mainly during the species's breeding season. However, the impact of these activities is not known (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). Climate change may be causing a shift in suitable habitat, which may explain the increased sightings in Northern Africa and the Iberian peninsula (Garrido et al. 2020). Electrocution and collision with power lines may pose a significant threat (Ogada et al. 2016; Garrido et al. 2020). 

Conservation actions

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendices I & II, Raptors MOU Category 1. This species occurs in a number of protected areas across Africa. It is covered by a Multi-species Action Plan (MsAP) for the conservation of African-Eurasian vultures (Botha et al. 2017). It was included in a CITES Significant Trade Review. In 2007, a survey began to establish the extent of diclofenac use for veterinary purposes in Tanzania (Woodford et al. 2008), 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, C. Bowden in litt. 2008). At the 2014 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species, a set of guidelines to address poisoning was formally adopted (Ogada et al. 2016). 

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Establish legal protection for this species, particularly in West Africa. Monitor remaining populations including at colonies, perhaps through a pan-African monitoring mechanism (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). Conserve remaining populations within protected areas. Protect breeding colonies. Maintain remaining wild ungulate herds within protected areas. Raise awareness amongst pastoralists of the dangers of using poisons for pest control. Discourage the use of diclofenac for veterinary purposes in countries where this does not already take place (BirdLife International 2007). Lobby governments to outlaw the marketing and sale of diclofenac for veterinary purposes (BirdLife International 2007). 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. 


85-97 cm. Medium-sized vulture. Overall dark brown plumage with extensive pale creamy edging to body feathers. Dark flight feathers. Has a white ruff, dark neck and pale head. Distal half of the bill is pale. Juveniles have an all dark bill and paler body plumage. The centres to their body feathers are altogether less dark. Similar spp. Within its range this species could be confused with G. fulvus or G. africanus. However, both of those species are less mottled and have uniform light brown body plumage. G. africanus has an all dark bill.


Text account compilers
Haskell, L.

Barlow, C., Bowden, C., Dowsett, R.J., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Genero, F., Pomeroy, D., Thiollay, J.-M., Virani, M., Wolstencroft, J., Jama, A., Hall, P., Kendall, C., Ogada, D., Brouwer, J., Anthony, A., Rainey, H., Goodwin, W., Mhlanga, W., Bird, J., Wheatley, H., Ashpole, J, Ndang'ang'a, P.K., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A., Butchart, S., Westrip, J.R.S. & Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Gyps rueppelli. Downloaded from on 01/03/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/03/2024.