Egyptian vultures still hanging on in Cape Verde! VCF, CIBIO and University of Cape Verde started a survey of the rare species in the archipelago

The Egyptian Vulture is a globally endangered species, with almost all populations worldwide undergoing a strong decline. The species used to be widespread in Cape Verde, an Atlantic oceanic archipelago off the west coast of Africa, until about 25 years ago, but in the last few decades it underwent a very rapid decline, and virtually disappeared from the country.

In Cape Verde, like in other archipelagos (Canary islands, Balearics, Socotra), the Egyptian vulture is sedentary - most other populations are migratory, with Eurasian birds spending the winter in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the India subcontinent.

Recently the VCF, CIBIO (Portugal) and the University of Cape Verde joined forces to try to establish the current status of the species in Cape Verde, with generous support of a small Grant from the Association Francaise de Parcs Zoologiques (AFdPZ). In December, two Cape Verdean biologists spent 10 days doing fieldwork in Santo Antão, one of the islands where the species may still survive, to collect data and information.

The biologists did 241 interviews all over the island, covering subjects like the presence of the bird, the number of cattle heads present, the use of pesticides and poisons, and surveyed garbage dumps and slaughterhouses.

They found out that indeed Egyptian vultures, locally called Canhota, are still present. They have mapped 26 recent observations of the species (in the last 5 years), with the most recent observation in December 2014, in the Porto Novo area, where an Egyptian vulture was seen eating a dead pig. Some of these observations relate to a pair seen together.

The species seems to have declined substantially after widespread chemical fumigation on the island in 1988, to try to control a grasshopper plague then affecting the local populations. Other threats identified were the use of poison to control feral dogs that sometimes kill cattle, and the reduced availability of food for the Egyptian vultures – on one hand, fish that were once traditionally salted and dried on the beaches, resulting in many organic by-products available to the vultures, are now sent fresh to São Vicente, while the carcasses of dead cattle are now buried. If we add this to the progressive sanitization of the villages, and some urban development, one can start explaining the species` demise.

The survey done by the two Cape Verdean biologists mapped 4 active garbage dumps, with the biggest one in Aguada. There is only one slaughterhouse on the island (João de Dias, Ribeira Grande), where the rests of the animals are buried or incinerated, but local people still traditionally kill animals throughout the countryside, abandoning some animals parts, that are usually eaten by the dogs.

The project will now survey the species in the other islands where it may still survive. Later, a conservation plan will be developed. Watch this space for more developments!

The VCF would like to thank the AFdPZ for the funding and support to this project.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Rubén Barone (Saturday, 27 June 2015 15:54)

    This project is very interesting and necessary, but unfortunately, I think the situation of the Egyptian Vulture in the Cape Verde Islands is really critical at this moment, with a very low population in the whole archipelago, so probably is too late to save the species there. I have visited the Cape Verdes 10 times, mostly to study birds, and between 1997 and 2010 I have seen Egyptian Vultures only on Boavista (not in November 2010 but several birds in October 1998), Maio (in October 2000), Sao Nicolau (several birds in April 1999, but none in November 2010), and Santo Antao (in April 1999). On S. Vicente, Sal, Santiago, Fogo and Brava I haven't seen vultures, but on Fogo I obtained detailed references on the species some years before 2005, a year in which I made two trips to this island, in February and September (local people informed me about the high rarity of the species in this island). On the other hand, I obtained also several local references about Santiago, but I have been there many times, visiting good areas for the species, and I haven't seen individuals. Almost all my records of Egyptian Vultures are included in different papers published between 1998 and 2001, that you can see and download here:
    Good luck with the project!




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