Gyps africanus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Gyps africanus
Species Authority: Salvadori, 1865
Common Name(s):
English White-backed Vulture
French Gyps africain, Vautour africain

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Taylor, J. & Butchart, S.
Contributor(s): Baker, N., Barlow, C., Bowden, C., Genero, F., Hancock, P., Millington, L., Ndang'ang'a, P., Peterson, D., Pomeroy, D., Simmons, R., Thiollay, J., Thomsett, S., Virani, M., Scott, M., Buij, R., Ogada, D., Jama, A., Roxburgh, L., Dowsett-Lemaire, F., Hall, P., Scott, A., Kendall, C. & Brouwer, J.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Bird, J., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J.
This species has declined severely in parts of its range and overall it is suspected to have undergone a very rapid decline owing to habitat loss and conversion to agro-pastoral systems, declines in wild ungulate populations, hunting for trade, persecution, collisions and poisoning. These declines are likely to continue into the future. For this reason it has been uplisted to Endangered.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Gyps africanus is the most widespread and common vulture in Africa, although it is now undergoing rapid declines. It occurs from Senegal, Gambia and Mali in the west, throughout the Sahel region to Ethiopia and Somalia in the east, through East Africa into Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa in the south. Its global population has been estimated at 270,000 individuals. Consistent with other vulture species, it has declined by over 90% in West Africa (J. M. Thiollay in litt. 2006), and it has largely disappeared from Ghana apart from Mole National Park (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2011), Niger (no records away from W National Park since 1997, J. Brouwer in litt. 2012) and Nigeria (no sightings in 2011 in last stronghold of Yankari Game Reserve, nor anywhere else, and possibly extirpated from the country, P. Hall in ltt. 2011). The species has also declined in Sudan and South Sudan (Nikolaus 2006), Somalia (A. Jama in litt. 2011) and Kenya (c.52% declines in Masai Mara over c.15 years, M. Virani in litt. 2006, Virani et al. 2011), but is apparently more stable in Ethiopia (Nikolaus 2006), Tanzania (D. Peterson in litt. 2006), and across southern Africa where an estimated 40,000 individuals remain (R. Simmons in litt. 2006). Nevertheless, it is suspected to have declined very rapidly overall.

Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The species's global population has been estimated at 270,000 individuals.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Primarily a lowland species of open wooded savanna, particularly areas of Acacia. It requires tall trees for nesting. A gregarious species congregating at carcasses, in thermals and at roost sites. It nests in loose colonies.

Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The species faces similar threats to other African vultures, being susceptible to habitat conversion to agro-pastoral systems, loss of wild ungulates leading to a reduced availability of carrion, hunting for trade, persecution and poisoning. In East Africa, the primary issue is poisoning (particularly from the highly toxic pesticide carbofuran), which occurs primarily outside protected areas; the large range sizes of this and G. rueppellii species puts them at significant risk as it means they inevitably spend considerable time outside protected areas (Ogada and Keesing 2010, Otieno et al. 2010, Kendall and Virani in press). Recent evidence from wing-tagging and telemetry studies suggests that annual mortality, primarily from incidental poisoning, can be as high as 25% for G. africanus (Kendall and Virani in press). In addition, the ungulate wildlife populations on which this species relies have declined precipitously throughout East Africa, even in protected areas (Western et al. 2009). In 2007, diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug often used for livestock, and which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses, was found to be on sale at a veterinary practice in Tanzania (BirdLife International 2007). It was also reported that in Tanzania, a Brazilian manufacturer has been aggressively marketing the drug for veterinary purposes (C. Bowden in litt. 2007) and exporting it to 15 African countries (BirdLife International 2007). In southern Africa, vultures are caught and consumed for perceived medicinal and psychological benefits (McKean and Botha 2007), and the decline and possible extirpation in Nigeria has been attributed to the trade in vulture parts for traditional juju practices (P. Hall in litt. 2011). As a result of this and environmental pressures, it is predicted that the population of G. africanus in Zululand could be become locally extinct in 26 years, unless harvest rates have been underestimated, in which case local extinction could be 10-11 years away (McKean and Botha 2007). There is evidence that it is captured for international trade; for example in 2005, 13 individuals of this species being kept illegally in Italy were reportedly confiscated (F. Genero in litt. 2005). Electrocution on powerlines is also a problem in parts of its range, and it is vulnerable to nest harvesting or disturbance by humans (Bamford et al. 2009); perhaps more so than G. rueppellii, as it breeds in trees rather than on inaccessible cliffs (C. Kendall in litt. 2012).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
The species occurs in a number of protected areas thoughout its range. A press release was circulated in July 2007 to raise awareness of the impacts of hunting for medicinal and cultural reasons in southern Africa (McKean and Botha 2007). In 2007, a survey began to establish the extent of diclofenac use for veterinary purposes in Tanzania (BirdLife International 2007), and in 2008 an awareness-raising campaign at a conference of the World Organisation for Animal Health in Senegal led to a resolution being adopted unanimously by more than 160 delegates to "request Members to consider their national situation with the aim to seek measures to find solutions to the problems caused by the administration of diclofenac in livestock" (Woodford et al. 2008, C. Bowden in litt. 2008).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Establish a monitoring network for African vultures. Establish legal protection for the species in range states. Raise awareness amongst pastoralists of the dangers of using poisons for pest control. Eliminate the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa. Limit the hunting of game to improve the availability of carrion. Carry out education and awareness programmes, particularly targetted at farmers, to reduce persecution, unintentional poisoning and hunting for cultural reasons.

Citation: BirdLife International 2012. Gyps africanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 03 September 2015.
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