The first fieldteam of the Moroccan bird of prey Atlas programme departed for the Atlantic Sahara to monitor and survey raptors. The expeditition is coordinated by the High Commission for Water and Forests and the Fight against Desertification (HCEFLCD), the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (IUCN-Med) and the regional government of Andalusia in Spain.
In an example of cross-border cooperation, Moroccan and Spanish ornithologists, members of non-governmental organizations in Morocco (GOMAC – Groupe Ornithologique du Maroc and ASARA – Association des Amis des Rapaces), and Spain (GREFA – Grupo de Rehabilitación de la Fauna Autóctona y su Hábitat and Fundación Migres), as well as the Junta de Andalucia, took part in the first expedition to the regions of Guelmin - Oued Noun and Tan-Tan for a period of 4 days.
Raptors such as the Rüppell's Vulture and the Egyptian Vulture are among the first target species in the census and monitoring programme, since they face serious threats such as electrocution on power lines or poisoning.
First results from the survey
Preliminary data suggest that electrocution is a significant threat in this region for breeding raptors and migrants, as already revealed in a first study in 2016 (Rapport sur la mortalité de rapaces par électrocution dans le sud-ouest marocain).
Within the approximately 80 kilometers of power lines surveyed, about 90 electrocuted birds were found. The most dangerous lines have been identified to accelerate the implementation of corrective measures by the authorities and the electricity company.
This first visit also identified approximately 25 breeding pairs of raptors in the area, including species such as the Golden Eagle, the Bonelli Eagle or the Lanner Falcon.
Vultures in Morocco
Morocco was historically home to five breeding species of vultures, Bearded, Cinereous, Egyptian, Griffon and Lappet-faced Vulture. Today the Bearded, Egyptian and Griffon Vultures still have breeding populations, although there has been little evidence of confirmed breeding of Griffon Vultures in the last 20 years. The Hooded, White-backed and Rüppell’s Vultures are occasional visitors from sub-Saharan Africa. The nesting populations of the three species have a very restricted range, but there is generally very little data about the status of these vultures - it is estimated that they are critically endangered with less than 10 breeding pairs each.
This wildlife census and monitoring program, known as the Atlas Program, aims to provide basic information on the threatened fauna of Morocco in order to carry out management actions aimed at the conservation of these species and biodiversity. general. The programme is coordinated by the HCEFLCD and IUCN-Med, with the technical support of the experts of the Regional Government of the Junta de Andalucía. The participation of experts and institutions from both shores of the Mediterranean consolidates a network of exchange of experiences and knowledge for a more effective management of wildlife conservation. Furthermore, this programme shows that the conservation of biodiversity, especially raptors, knows no boundaries.
The Atlas Programme is integrated in the "Safe Flyways – reducing infrastructure-related bird mortality in the Mediterranean" Project, sponsored by the Mava Foundation, and will also include the participation of VCF experts and fieldworkers, who will later in the year jojn Moroccan colleagues surveying areas where the last Bearded and Egyptian Vultures live.