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Safe from slaughter? Threats and conservation prospects of raptors in Benin wetlands

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

31 July, 2023

By Abiola Sylvestre Chaffra

An Osprey catches a fish. Photo by Nils-Fredrik Nilsson.

A major threat to raptors in Africa includes their hunting and trapping for regional “fetish” markets where they are sold for ritual use. The use of animal parts and carcasses in prescriptions for good fortune, protection from evil, and other folk magic practices is a major factor driving vultures and other raptors in Africa to extinction. Even winter visitors, such as Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), are not safe from this trend. Raptors and their carcasses and parts may fetch some of the highest prices in the fetish trade.

Map of southern Benin wetlands where raptors were surveyed. Map by Abiola Sylvestre Chaffra.

With a grant from IBCP, I assessed such threats in southern Benin, West Africa, at two wetland sites listed under the Ramsar Convention, the Lac Ahémé complex and Bas-Ouémé complex, where baseline data on birds and other wildlife are scarce. To evaluate diurnal raptor abundance and distribution in these wetlands, I conducted field surveys by canoe during the dry season, from December 2022 to March 2023, when low water levels provided abundant fishing opportunities for raptors. I counted a total 1874 individuals of 17 diurnal raptor species at 673 locations, including three families Accipitridae (11 species), Pandionidae (1 species) and Falconidae (5 species). I did not detect species such as the African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus), which had been previously identified in this region, during these surveys, although African Harrier Hawk carcasses were offered for sale in local fetish markets.

An African Harrier Hawk carcass with other raptor carcasses offered for sale by Beninois fetish traders. Photo by Nico Arcilla.

Nearly one third (29%) of species detected were wintering Palearctic migrants, two thirds (65%) were permanent residents, and 6% were intra-African migrants. The most frequently detected Palearctic migratory raptor, the Osprey, was observed at >80% of sites visited. Like other long-distance migratory birds, Osprey may travel enormous distances between their nesting and wintering grounds. Osprey that nest in Sweden, for example, fly an average of 6,700 km to winter in Africa. Their spectacular abilities in navigation, endurance, and fishing on the wing, however, cannot save them from becoming victims of the wildlife trade – only conservation action can. As it stands now, Osprey are among the most highly persecuted birds for fetish markets in this region.

Forty-four Lizard Buzzards (Kaupifalco monogrammicus) were counted during surveys in southern wetlands of Benin. Photo by Nico Arcilla.

These findings highlight the national and international importance of southern Benin wetlands for raptors. We look forward to presenting these results and their conservation implications in detail at the upcoming meeting of the Raptor Research Foundation. Raising conservation awareness among local to communities and supporting traditional and governmental laws protecting wildlife will help maintain Benin’s natural and cultural heritage. Priority conservation actions include enforcing laws governing hunting and trapping as well as protecting wetland islands with sacred forests that still hold large trees, which provide important nesting and roosting habitat for raptors and other wildlife. Benin’s traditional spiritual leaders are vital partners in this effort.

Four Eurasian Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) were counted on our surveys. Photo by Nico Arcilla.

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