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.