Africa's Birds Of Prey Need Protection

5 Jan 2024

A visit to north-eastern Namibia includes the Okavango and Zambezi Rivers with their river banks showcasing lush vegetation, wild animals and an amazing birdlife.

“You have not been there if you have not heard the cry of the majestic fish eagle  and watched it catch its prey in the water with its huge claws,” the saying goes.

But raptors in Namibia and in Africa need more protection. This goes for eagles and their lesser respected “cousins” - vultures.

Snake eagle, Namibia
The Brown Snake Eagle. Photo by Markus lilje, eBird

New results of a recent study, which were released in early January 2024 by an international team of researchers show that Africa's birds of prey are dwindling in numbers.

The study, co-led by researchers from the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews (Scotland) and The Peregrine Fund, rang the alarm bells as it revealed that nearly 90 percent of the 42 species examined are declining. “More than two-thirds may qualify as globally threatened,” the University of St. Andrews stated.

The results were published in the article, "African savanna raptors show evidence of widespread population collapse and a growing dependence on protected areas," in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on 4 January 2024.

Dr. Phil Shaw from St Andrews and Dr. Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund led the study, which combines counts from road surveys conducted within four African regions at intervals of about 20 to 40 years. It found major changes in the abundance of savanna raptor species.

Large raptor species suffer bigger declines than smaller species, particularly on unprotected land, where they are more vulnerable to persecution and other human pressures.

African endemic species like the Wahlberg's Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Long-crested Eagle, African Harrier-hawk and Brown Snake-eagle, as well as the Dark Chanting-goshawk are threatened.

Flying Fish eagle, Namibia
The majestic fish eagle. Photo by Munir Virani, Pegerine Fund

The picture looks brighter in protected areas.

“Unless many of the threats currently facing African raptors are addressed effectively, large, charismatic eagle and vulture species are unlikely to persist over much of the continent's unprotected land by the latter half of this century,” the study concluded.

Vultures are an important factor in the African eco-system as they remove some seventy percent of carcasses per annum.

In Namibia, which is also home to the Brown Snake Eagle, several private initiatives monitor eagles and particularly vultures and fit several individuals with rings annually.

In some areas in southern Namibia a few farmers have agreed to have food platforms, also called “vulture restaurants” set up, where vultures can land and feed on animal carcasses, provided to them on a regular basis. 

Brigitte Weidlich

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