Justification of Red List Category
There is evidence for very rapid declines in this species from across its African range. There are some areas where there may be local stability, and there is a paucity of information available regarding trends from the Asian portion of the species's range. Taking this information into account, overall declines are tentatively suspected to be rapid, and as such the species is listed as Vulnerable. Further information could show that the species warrants listing under a higher threat level.
African Raptor DataBank data suggests that given available habitat, of varying suitability, there could be a population size of 73,860 pairs in Africa. Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) estimated a global population of 100,000-999,999 individuals, with the population in South Asia estimated at between 10,000-99,999 individuals. Therefore, the overall population size is placed here in the range 100,000-499,999 mature individuals.
Declines have been reported from northern, western and southern Africa (Global Raptors Information Network 2015). The Red Data Book of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland assessed the rate of decline as >60% over the past 50 years (Taylor 2015), and in Namibia the decline has been estimated at 63% over 30 years (Simmons 2015) (roughly equating to a decline of 74% over 3 generations [41.07 years]). In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger the population outside protected areas decreased by over 87% between 1969-1973 and 2000-2004 (Thiollay 2006), equating to a decline of c.93% over three generations. In the Masai Mara ecosystem, Kenya, the population decreased by 28% between 1976-1988 and 2003-2005 (Virani et al. 2011), roughly equivalent to 46% over 3 generations. The population is also thought to have plummeted in south Morocco to the extent that it is considered near to extinction there, but a breeding population possibly remains in Algeria (J. R. Garrido in litt. 2018). Such rapid declines are not seen across the entirety of its African range though, with increases seen in Botswana (Garbett et al. 2018, G. Maude in litt. 2018), and this species does remain the most common eagle in Ethiopia (E. Buechley in litt. 2018). The frequency of reports of Tawny Eagle sightings in India on eBird declined by c.75% during 2000-2018, suggesting that the population may also be declining in this part of the range (SoIB 2020). With steep declines recorded in many areas, but possible increases in others, the global population is suspected to be declining at a rate of 30-49% over three generations.
Aquila rapax is a widespread raptor occurring over large areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, with isolated populations in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Rapid declines in this species have been reported from across its African range, with the species having disappeared from areas such as coastal Gambia (C. Barlow in litt. 2018). It has potentially gone extinct in southern Morocco (J.R. Garrido in litt. 2018), and across Africa it is now becoming increasingly dependent on protected areas (e.g. Thiollay 2006, 2007, Virani et al. 2011, Simmons 2015, Taylor 2015). However, it does remain common in some areas, being the most common eagle in Ethiopia (E. Buechley in litt. 2018), and in some areas the population may even be increasing (e.g. Botswana; Garbett et al. 2018, G. Maude in litt. 2018).
Behaviour The species is resident across the Afrotropical, Indomalayan and fringing Palearctic regions (34°N to 31°S) but occurs in discrete populations. It is common across its range, and generally sedentary, although individuals are nomadic and will occasionally wander long distances. In West Africa individuals will make short distance seasonal movements south into the damper woodlands during October – November and return in April (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Habitat The species occupies dry open habitats from sea level to 3000m, and will occupy both woodland and wooded savannah. In India it can be found near cultivated areas, settlements and slaughterhouses (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Diet The species has a wide prey base, taking mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and occasionally fish and amphibians. It will also regularly consume carrion and pirate other raptors’ prey (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001). Breeding Site Nesting occurs on a large stick platform that may also incorporate animal bones, and is located on top of tall isolated trees or occasionally on top of a pylon. The breeding season in Africa spans March to August in the north, October to June in the West, April to January in central and southern areas, and year-round (but mainly May-November) in Kenya. In India the season spans November to August (Ferguson- Lees and Christie, 2001).
The species has declined in the farmed areas of eastern and southern Africa, apparently as a result of consuming poisoned carcasses. Widespread poisoning of feral dogs in Ethiopia could then prove to be a major problem, in addition to private poisoning (E. Buechley in litt. 2018). In western and north-east Africa declines have been reported but the causes are not known. In general the species’s opportunistic behaviour suggests it is resistant to the usual threats (del Hoyo et al. 1994; Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001) although long term changes in rainfall patterns could affect the breeding success of the species in future (Wichmann et al. 2004). In South Africa it has been known to drown in farmland reservoirs (Anderson et al. 1999) and birds have been killed through collisions with power lines (Global Raptor Information Network 2015, E. Buechley in litt. 2018). Direct persecution and collisions with road vehicles when scavenging have also been identified as threats (Global Raptor Information Network 2015, M. Virani in litt. 2018). Accidental poisoning has also been reported (Brown 1991) and while the impact of NSAIDs on this species is not clear, a congener, the Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis), has recently been shown to be affected by diclofenac (Sharma et al. 2014).
Conservation Actions Underway
This species is listed under the Raptors MOU, and is on Appendix II of CITES. It is also protected under the Cape Province Nature and Environmental Conservation Ordinance No. 19, and the Swaziland Game Act, no. 51 (Taylor 2015). The species is now becoming increasingly dependent on protected areas (e.g. Thiollay 2006, 2007, Virani et al. 2011, Simmons 2015, Taylor 2015). Awareness campaigns are underway to reduce the number of poisoning incidents, and there are local monitoring projects underway in South Africa (Taylor 2015). Vulture restaurants may also be used by this species (Taylor 2015).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Amongst others, Taylor (2015) recommends the following actions: 1) a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment in addition to a management plan to result in a Species Recovery Plan. 2) Manage large buffer zones around protected areas, and conduct research to decide what the minimum size these should be. 3) Promote more vulture restaurants, which this species will use. 4) Install bird-friendly structures to prevent electrocution. 5) Attempt to decrease poisoning as much as possible. 6) Conduct further research into breeding densities inside and outside of protected areas, and further to this research across wider areas can give a better idea of the overall population trend. 7) Measure the success of awareness programmes. Simmons (2015) additionally proposes the production of further education and awareness materials to try to reduce poisoning incidents, as well as training for law enforcers. There should also be stricter enforcement on the sale of toxic substances and legislation for severe penalties for those who do commit such poisoning offences (Simmons 2015).
Text account compilers
African Raptor DataBank, Barlow, C., Botha, A., Buechley, E., Davies, R., Garrido, J., Virani, M., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Westrip, J.R.S., Ashpole, J & Butchart, S.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Aquila rapax. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/03/2023.