Torgos tracheliotos 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Accipitriformes Accipitridae

Scientific Name: Torgos tracheliotos
Species Authority: (Forster, 1791)
Common Name(s):
English Lappet-faced Vulture
French Vautour oricou
Torgos tracheliotus (Forster, 1791) [orth. error in BirdLife International (2004)]
Torgos tracheliotus (Forster, 1791) [orth. error in Cramp and Simmons (1977-1994)]
Torgos tracheliotus (Forster, 1791) [orth. error in Dowsett and Forbes-Watson (1993)]
Torgos tracheliotus (Forster, 1791) [orth. error in Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993)]
Torgos tracheliotus (Forster, 1791) [orth. error in AERC TAC (2003)]
Torgos tracheliotus tracheliotus (Forster, 1791) [orth. error in BirdLife International (2000)]
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International.
Taxonomic Notes: Spelling of specific name follows Mundy et al. (1992).

Identification information: 78-115 cm. Very large, long- and square-winged vulture. In flight, very black-looking with white thighs and white bar running across leading edge of underwing (from body to "wrist"). Naked, pinkish-skinned head. Similar spp. Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus is half the size. Voice Various hisses and cackles given at nest and, in aggression, at food, but less vocal than Gyps vultures. Hints Larger wingspan than any other vulture in Africa. Over much of its range, it mainly inhabits semi-arid or desert areas with only scattered trees and short grass (Mundy et al. 1992). Frequently seen in most large protected areas in eastern and southern Africa, particularly in Namibia. It is generally a sociable species, congregating at carcasses.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2015-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Bowden, C., Hall, P., Hancock, P., Rondeau, G., Shimelis, A., Shobrak, M., Thiollay, J., Kendall, C., Brouwer, J., Jama, A., Mundy, P., Rainey, H., Goodwin, W. & Mhlanga, W.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Ekstrom, J., Evans, M., Martin, R, Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Symes, A. & Ashpole, J
This species has been uplisted to Endangered. Only a small, very rapidly declining population remains, owing primarily to poisoning and persecution, as well as ecosystem alterations. Recently published data suggests that the population in Africa is declining extremely rapidly.

Previously published Red List assessments:
2012 Vulnerable (VU)
2008 Vulnerable (VU)
2007 Vulnerable (VU)
2004 Vulnerable (VU)
2000 Vulnerable (VU)
1994 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
1988 Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species breeds in Egypt, Senegal, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, Saudi Arabia (an increasing population, in excess of 500 individuals [Newton and Shobrak 1993, M. Shobrak in litt. 2000]), United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and possibly Libya (Massa 1999). The species also occurs in The Gambia, northern Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Central African Republic and southern Angola (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is no longer thought to breed in Côte d'Ivoire (G. Rondeau in litt. 2007). It has been extinct in Algeria and Tunisia since the 1930s, and now only small populations remain in southern Egypt, and Mauritania (Mundy et al. 1992). The last records from Morocco concerned two birds in 1972 (Shimelis et al. 2005). It is considered likely to be extinct in Western Sahara, as it has not been recorded there since 1955 (Shimelis et al. 2005). In Nigeria, there has been a major decline since the late 1970s and it may now have been extirpated (Brown 1986, Shimelis et al. 2005). It probably previously bred in Jordan (Evans and Al-Mashaqbah 1996), has largely disappeared where formerly common in Somaliland (Somalia) (A. Jama in litt. 2009), and is considered extinct in Israel, where three birds remained until 1994 (Shimelis et al. 2005).

The species was not recorded during surveys in 2004 in northern Mali and Niger along the same transects that yielded 96 birds in 1971-1973 (Thiollay 2006). The combination of these results with comparable transect surveys from Burkina Faso indicate a decline in abundance of c.97% in rural areas and c.39% in national parks between 1969-1973 and 2003-2004 (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004), and declines of 50% were also recorded between 1978-1986 and 2003-2005 on transects in the Masai Mara, Kenya (Virani et al. 2011). It is suffering a slow decline in southern Africa (Boshoff et al. 1997) and populations are likely to disappear in South Africa should current levels of exploitation and other pressures continue (McKean et al. 2015). However the population in central Mozambique is probably stable (Parker 2005). There are possibly 1,000 pairs (almost 3,000 individuals) in southern Africa, at least the same in east and north-east Africa, and possibly only c.500 pairs in West Africa and the Sahara, giving a total rough estimate of the African population of at least 8,000 individuals (Mundy et al. 1992). Ogada et al. (2015) estimate a median population decline in Africa of 80% (range: 65-87%) over three generations (45 years).

Countries occurrence:
Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Djibouti; Egypt; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Kenya; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Oman; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; United Arab Emirates; Yemen; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Possibly extinct:
Syrian Arab Republic
Regionally extinct:
Israel; Jordan; Palestinian Territory, Occupied
Algeria; Burundi; Libya; Morocco; Togo
Present - origin uncertain:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO): Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO): No
Estimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2: 8080000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO): Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO): No
Continuing decline in number of locations: Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations: No
Upper elevation limit (metres): 3500
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The African population is at least 8,000 individuals, and there may be 500 in the Middle East. This gives a total population of at least 8,500 individuals, roughly equivalent to 5,700 mature individuals.

Trend Justification:  The total population is estimated to be declining at a very rapid rate. Ogada et al. (2015) estimated the population in Africa was declining by 80% over three generations (range: 65-87%). Assuming a stable population of 500 mature individuals in Arabia, applying the median decline in Africa reported by Ogada et al. (80%) to a population of 5,700 mature individuals in 1992 results in a global decline at a rate of around 74%, taking the upper quartile for the African data (65%) results in a global decline of 58%.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Number of mature individuals: 5700 Continuing decline of mature individuals: Yes
Extreme fluctuations: No Population severely fragmented: No
No. of subpopulations: 1 Continuing decline in subpopulations: Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations: No All individuals in one subpopulation: Yes
No. of individuals in largest subpopulation: 100

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The species inhabits dry savanna, arid plains, deserts and open mountain slopes (Shimelis et al. 2005), up to 3,500 m (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007). In Ethiopia, it is also found at the edge of forests, having been recorded at Bonga forest and forest in Bale Mountains National Park in 2007, as well as the Afro-alpine habitats of the national park in 2005 (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007). It ranges widely when foraging (P. Hall in litt. 2000) and is mainly a scavenger, feeding predominantly on any large carcasses or their remains (Mundy 1982, Mundy et al. 1992). It is also known to hunt, probably taking a variety of small reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, and has been observed apparently group-hunting flamingo Phoenicopterus chicks (McCulloch 2006a, 2006b). It builds solitary nests (usually containing just one egg), often in Acacia (its distribution sometimes being limited by these trees' distribution [Boshoff et al. 1997]), but also in Balanites and Terminalia (Shimelis et al. 2005). It does not breed until at least six years old, then fledging c.0.4 young/pair/year (Mundy et al. 1992). Ringing studies in Namibia have revealed a very low return rate (Simmons and Bridgeford 1997). The species's minimum home range is thought to be 8 km2, and this can expand to 15 km2 in some habitats (Shimelis et al. 2005). In Mozambique, egg-laying occurs from late April until mid-August, with a peak in May and June (Parker 2005). A nest found in Oman contained a small chick in early March, and thought to have fledged in mid-June (Wernery 2009).

Systems: Terrestrial
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat: Unknown
Generation Length (years): 15
Movement patterns: Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Widespread accidental poisoning, largely due to strychnine, used by many farmers for predator control, and more recently carbofuran, has contributed significantly to declines (Brown 1986, P. Hall in litt. 2000, Otieno et al. 2010, C. Kendall in litt. 2012). Several Lappet-faced Vultures were found to have died after feeding on the carcass of a poisoned jackal in Namibia (Komen 2009) and two birds were killed as a result of feeding on a poisoned carcass in Kenya (Kendall and Virani 2012). A mass poisoning event involving at least 15 Lappet-faced Vultures occurred in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe in 2012 (Groom et al. 2012). The upper beaks of eight of these birds were removed suggesting that they may be traded for traditional medicine. It is also often mistakenly persecuted as a livestock predator (Brown 1986): one major deliberate poisoning incident killed 86 individuals in Namibia (Simmons 1995)

Other major threats to the species include nest predation by humans, reduced food availability and electrocution (Shimelis et al. 2005). Increasing use of agricultural pesticides may also be a problem for the species (Mundy et al. 1992), including those breeding at Tayma, Saudi Arabia (Shimelis et al. 2005). Nest disturbance, to which it is extremely sensitive (Steyn 1982), may be growing with an increase in forest settlements in Ethiopia (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007) and the increasing recreational use of off-road vehicles (Mundy et al. 1992). In Saudi Arabia, suitable nesting trees may be subject to the most intense human disturbance as shepherds also use the same large trees for shelter for themselves and their livestock (Shobrak 2011). Breeding birds at Tayma could face disturbance from motorised vehicles in the desert (Shimelis et al. 2005).

The population collapse in West Africa may be a result of higher nest disturbance, local extinctions of wild ungulates through habitat modification and over-hunting, intensified cattle farming in which sick or dying animals are rarely abandoned, and an increase in accidental poisoning (Thiollay 2006, Rondeau and Thiollay 2004), although the latter threat, in particular, requires further study (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). National vaccination campaigns in West Africa have reduced illness in domestic livestock, and sick animals can now be sold off, rather than abandoned, due to the proliferation of markets and abattoirs (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). The species may be hunted for medicine and cultural reasons in West Africa, and some ethnic groups in the sub-region hunt vultures for food, though the impact on this species is unknown (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). It is also thought to be used for traditional medicine in South Africa (McKean et al. 2013) and has been recorded in trade in West and Central African markets (Buij et al. 2015). With 858-1,284 individuals reported to have been traded over a six year period in West Africa, numbers traded represent a potentially significant proportion of the regional population.

In central Mozambique, the population has declined due to a scarcity of game and livestock following the armed conflict of the 1970s and 1980s, and the surviving population continues to be threatened by the over-exploitation of game by poachers (Parker 2005). There are incidences of deliberate poisoning by poachers, due to the belief that the arriving vultures will give away the locations of poached animals (Hancock 2009, Roxburgh and McDougall 2012). In Ethiopia, the principal threat to the species is habitat loss on the lowland plains (A. Shimelis in litt. 2007, 2012). Potential introduction of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is fatal to Gyps spp. when ingested at livestock carcasses may represent a potential future threat to the species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. The species was put forward as a candidate for the CITES Review of Significant Trade in 2004 (CITES in litt. 2004). It breeds in a number of protected areas within its extensive range. Ecological research is ongoing, notably in Saudi Arabia (Newton and Shobrak 1993). Following a workshop, a five-year international action plan for the species was published in 2005, with the aims of stabilising or increasing its populations, improving knowledge of its distribution, population size and trends and minimising the impact of human activities at key sites (Shimelis et al. 2005). A comprehensive study of the species in Botswana was planned for 2007 (P. Hancock in litt. 2006), and 221 chicks have been marked with patagial tags between 2006 and 2009 (Bridgeford 2009). 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). The species will be listed as nationally Endangered in the Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed

Organise coordinated surveys and monitoring throughout its range to clarify population size and decline rates. Conduct further ecological research (Brown 1986, Boshoff et al. 1997, Shobrak in press). Initiate awareness campaigns aimed at farmers, local communities, developers and ecotourists to reduce mortality from persecution, accidental poisoning and disturbance (Boshoff et al. 1997, Harrison et al. 1997, Barnes 2000, Shimelis et al. 2005, Shobrak in press, Shobrak 2011). Identify important nesting areas (Shimelis et al. 2005). Carry out research into the effects of nest disturbance (Shimelis et al. 2005). Improve awareness amongst utilities and NGOs of hazardous pylon designs and suitable measures to prevent collisions through training courses and literature such as posters and best practice manuals (Shimelis et al. 2005). Increase awareness amongst farmers of suitable reservoir and drinking trough modification methods (Shimelis et al. 2005). Enforce legislation concerned with incorrect use of poisons and pesticides (Shimelis et al. 2005). Carry out research into the impacts of different poisons across its range (Shimelis et al. 2005). Study the impact of the species on livestock numbers and share information with stakeholders (Shimelis et al. 2005). Enact legislation against the persecution of the species (Shimelis et al. 2005). Encourage vulture feeding sites and the abandonment of livestock carcasses from death by natural causes (Shimelis et al. 2005). 
Provide enforcement for existing nature reserves in West Africa and design of a new one in northern Mali (Thiollay 2006). In West Africa, determine the severity of accidental poisoning, hunting of the species for medicine and cultural reasons, hunting for food, and the threat from the development of powerlines (Rondeau and Thiollay 2004). Complete a vulture census for West Africa (Anderson 2005). Eliminate the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa. A number of recommendations were produced at the 2012 Pan-Africa Vulture Summit (Botha et al. 2012, Ogada et al. 2015): 1) Regulate import, manufacture and sale of poisons; 2) Legislate and enforce measures to prosecute those involved in illegal killing and trade in vulture species; 3) Protect and effectively manage breeding sites; 4) Ensure new energy infrastructure is 'vulture-friendly' and modify existing unsafe infrastructure; 5) Support activities to conserve vulture populations, including research and outreach activities. 

Citation: BirdLife International. 2015. Torgos tracheliotos. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T22695238A84246344. . Downloaded on 28 November 2015.
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