Updated: Apr 18, 2020
by Sandra Goded
Vultures are among the most threatened species in Africa today, but there is little current data on their populations and conservation status for many parts of West Africa. Seven of Africa’s 10 species of vultures have exhibited precipitous population declines averaging 80% in recent years. Ongoing habitat destruction and declines of mammal populations that provide crucial food resources for vultures have contributed to these declines, but vultures also face a unique, insidious threat: mass deaths from poisoning that can kill hundreds or even over a thousand birds at one time. In some cases, this results from herders deliberately poisoning animal carcasses in illegal efforts to kill predators threatening their livestock. In others, elephant poachers may poison carcasses in illegal efforts to kill vultures that may alert rangers to their activities. Many such instances to date have been in eastern and southern Africa, but mass poisoning of vultures is taking place in West Africa as well, most recently an event in Guinea-Bissau that appears to have killed over a thousand critically endangered birds.
White-backed vultures feeding on a dead kob at Mole National Park. Photo taken by Sandra Goded.
To contribute to African vulture conservation, IBCP conducted surveys for three critically endangered African vulture species in Ghana, Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus), White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) and Africa White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), in February and March 2020. IBCP biologists worked with Ghana Wildlife Division staff and University for Development Studies faculty and students to lead surveys in Mole National Park and in the nearby urban center of Tamale. In Mole, we made counts of all three target species and were delighted to find active nesting sites for Hooded and Africa White-backed Vultures. We were particularly excited to make these discoveries since vulture breeding ecology in West Africa is very poorly understood, and this is a key to their future.
White-headed vulture in Mole National Park. Photo taken by Nico Arcilla.
We collected important data on Hooded and African White-backed Vulture breeding ecology and observed individual White-headed Vultures, but found no evidence of breeding for this species. Our international team was able to survey most of the accesible areas of Mole that were accesible by road, and our Ghana partners plan to survey additional areas in the coming weeks. In the nearby urban center of Tamale, we detected some other raptors but no vultures. We also made a brief visit to northern Togo in preparation to conduct similar vulture surveys in and outside of Togolese protected areas in the near future. On the way we made opportunitistic sightings of Hooded Vultures in the northernmost regions of Ghana and Togo, which we look forward to following up with systematic surveys soon! We will continue to work closely with local communities and government wildlife services to take action for vulture conservation in light of the challenges posed by increasing human populations, natural resource destruction, and other threats to the conservation of vultures and so many other species of Africa’s amazing wildlife. We are currently applying for grants to continue this crucial project in the future.