Our team has just returned from an exciting and productive trip to Ethiopia, in East Africa, where we have been investigating the status, ecology, and conservation of endangered vulture species. Ethiopia is host to the highest diversity of vultures anywhere in the world, with seven spectacular species regularly found around the country. Unfortunately, however, these species are among the most endangered animals on the planet: White-backed, Ruppell’s, Hooded, and White-headed vultures are Critically Endangered globally, while Lappet-faced and Egyptian vultures are Endangered and the Bearded vulture is Near Threatened. Furthermore, little is known about the status of these species in Ethiopia—a large country, roughly equivalent in size to California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah combined— which is critical habitat for these species. Over the past five years, we have been working to fill knowledge gaps and to lay the groundwork for conserving vultures in Ethiopia.
As part of this project, we have been surveying vulture populations around Ethiopia with a combination of road and point surveys. This past season was a particularly productive trip, with over 3,000 km of road surveys completed in just over one month. On these surveys we counted over 3,100 vultures of all seven species – or more than one vulture per kilometer surveyed, which is an impressive density for these endangered species. We also worked closely with Ethiopian colleagues to conduct hundreds of interviews of locals to learn about their perceptions of vultures and potential threats to wildlife around the country. This data is being used to identify key habitat for vultures, as well as to develop and enact conservation management plans for these species.
Our observations did not stop with vultures, as we count all raptors we see during this work. And, this year, we counted over 17,000 raptors of 60 different species, which is roughly 20% of all diurnal raptor species in the world! This tally included common species for Ethiopia like Augur Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, and Long-crested Eagle, as well as rarities such as Lizard Buzzard, Red-necked Falcon, and Fox Kestrel. Interestingly, nearly 10,000 of the raptors that we counted on this trip were Steppe Buzzards, which were migrating in huge streams over Ethiopia.
All in all, Ethiopia yet again proved to be a vulture and raptor lover’s paradise. I will be working hard this autumn and winter to tally and analyze this data, so stay tuned for updates on our findings!
HawkWatch International, University of Utah