Just like the Egyptian Vultures the team working on the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE team have headed south for a winter migration for the African 2019 Workshop, which this year is hosted by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS).
The Eastern flyway
The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project aims to reinforce the population of Egyptian Vultures not just in the eastern European range but along the flyway and is an international partnership of organisations spanning the Eastern Migratory Flyway from 14 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The African 2019 Workshop is being held in Ethiopia, which is home to the largest wintering congregation of Egyptian Vultures in Africa, sheltering over 1,000 individuals annual in the Afar region of the country.
The Africa 2019 Workshop brought together partners from organisations such as BirdLife Africa, A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, Sahara Conservation Fund,, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds to share skills and expertise for monitoring Egyptian Vultures, identifying and tackling some of the main threats the species faces in their wintering ground.
Day one of the workshop consisted of presentations in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, before the participants split into three groups with different focuses for the rest of the workshop including tagging Egyptian Vultures with GPS transmitters, monitoring of the roosting birds and conducting interviews with local communities to understand their level of awareness and attitude towards vultures.
Tracking Egyptian Vultures in Ethiopia
Egyptian Vulture Chuupa fitted with a GPS transmitter (c) Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
In order to monitor how Egyptian Vultures move around their wintering grounds in Ethiopia and understand the threats they may encounter the Egyptian Vulture wanted to take the oppotunity during the Africa 2019 Workshop to fit GPS transmitters to birds. The first group from the workshop participants led by Alazar Daka (Ethiopian ornithologist and our local guide) headed to the town of Metehara in central Ethiopia. After much waiting and patience and mistaking a curious juvenile Hooded Vulture for a young Egyptian Vulture the team managed to trap an Egyptian Vulture. The young bird was fitted with a solar powered GPS transmitter that weighs around 20-30g that will send location data over the mobile communications network. The bird was caught during the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Epiphany and gave it the name of Chuupa, meaning Epiphany in the local language.
Electrocution and collision with energy infrastructure are suspected to be the major contributor of mortality among Egyptian Vultures in their wintering grounds. To understand the scale of the problem and to inform conservation measures, a team from the workshop conducted inspections of identified dangerous powerlines around the town of Metehara.
Observing how Egyptian Vultures and other birds interact with the 'Killer' powerline (c) Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
The team found one killer powerline in a vast grassland abundant in food for vultures but without any tees, rocks or other structures convenient for perching of scavengers, except for electric poles. Survey of this line over a couple of kilometres revealed the remains of three Egyptian Vultures, Ruppell’s, White-backed and Hooded Vultures, and numerous other bird species Marabou Storks, Flamingos, Egrets, and many more. Other dangerous lines were also located in close proximity to known congregation areas for vultures such as several slaughter houses and rubbish dumps. With this solid evidence of the dangers the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE team will meet the local Ethiopian electric company and start negotiating for making these powerlines safe for birds.
Counting Egyptian Vultures
Monitoring the population size of Egyptian Vultures in their wintering grounds is important to understand the population’s status and as a baseline measure before undertaking any conservation measures to evaluate the success of those measures. Over a 600km itinerary of roosting Egyptian Vultures in the Metehara and Afar regions previous surveys in 2009, 2010 and in 2013 revealed population sizes of 1,424, 1,400 and 1,082 respectively. The 2019 survey across the same area revealed 1,644 individual birds, a great sign of the health of the population and in increase since the last survey in 2013.
Observing the daily congregation of vultures and other vultures at rubbish dumps (C) Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
The team counted the roosting population of Egyptian Vultures mostly in the afternoons and spent the mornings observing daily congregations of vultures and other scavengers at slaughterhouses and rubbish dumps. At one rubbish dumo at the town of Mojo the team encountered this sight of over 2,000 Marabou Storks, as well as hundreds of Ruppell's and other vultures.
Egyptian Vulture New LIFE
Working collaboratively projects like the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE aims to reinforce the Egyptian vulture population in their Europe’s easternmost range across the Balkans. By actively managing and restocking the population by releasing captive-bred birds the project will support the small Balkan population which number between 60 and 80 pairs across the whole region. The project is working to deliver conservation measures that eliminate major known threats such as illegal poisoning and electrocution in their summer breeding grounds. Monitoring the population closely using GPS transmitters will also help the project tackle the major threats Egyptian vultures face. The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE is a partnership of organisations, led by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds from 14 countries spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to protect Egyptian vultures not only in Europe but all along their migratory flyway.