Earlier this year, BirdLife International’s Red List team set about requesting information on a handful of threatened raptors whose populations appeared to be in decline. Amongst them was Africa’s largest eagle, the Martial Eagle. The aim was to gather the most recent information from researchers across the species range to assess whether downward population trends were drastic enough to grant uplisting to globally ‘Endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
HawkWatch International was able to contribute to this reassessment in two areas of the Martial Eagle’s distribution; South Africa and Ethiopia. In South Africa, HWI’s Dr. Megan Murgatroyd has been recording information consistent with a downward trend for the species. Long-term monitoring started in 2013 in Kruger National Park has revealed extremely poor breeding productivity, with the number of chicks produced per pair each year not being sufficient to maintain a stable population.
Further, from more than 10,800km of road counts in Ethiopia between 2010-2017, HWI’s Dr. Evan Buechley only recorded 6 Martial Eagles. These surveys were not specifically designed to sample Martial Eagles, however, it is an indication that Martial Eagles have a small and highly endangered population in Ethiopia. This population is likely to be under growing pressure from the large and growing human population size, loss of habitat, and limited protection even within flagship national parks in the country.
Martial Eagles are threatened by habitat loss, direct persecution, and the impacts of urban development. Surveys in some West African countries have noted the complete loss of Martial Eagles outside of large national parks. Large population declines, measured across three generations, have been recorded in Botswana (67% decline) and South Africa (77% decline). BirdLife International has now announced that these observations do indeed tip the threshold for the species, which has now officially been uplisted to Endangered.
Although this is extremely worrying, Ian Burfield of BirdLife International who compiles the Red List list for birds, says this uplisting can actually help the species. “While any species being listed as threatened was obviously bad news, it doesn't have to be a tragedy. For many, the road to recovery begins here, as listing brings visibility to their plight and helps to raise their conservation priority," he explained.
HawkWatch International is honored to be involved with the conservation of this enigmatic raptor, but we also clearly have our work cut out for us.
To learn more about this project and how you can support these efforts to conserve the Martial Eagle, please visit: https://hawkwatch.org/our-work/africaneagles
This project is made possible by The FitzPatrick Institute, HawkWatch International and The Endangered Wildlife Trust.