Last week I was finishing off the Botswana journey pages when I decided, really as a bit of an afterthought, to give Vultures their own gallery rather than just bundle them in with a number of other savannah birds. My reason at the time was that they both made a good stand-alone group but, more importantly, they are a declining group of birds in Africa. I noted this problem and the reasons for it in the narrative.
The thing is, I understated the issue. Yesterday, a friend from the trip referred me to a National Geographic article from January this year which far better describes the plight in Africa and globally of vultures. We saw four species of vultures and photographed three. Of these, three are now categorised by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List as Critically Endangered while the fourth is Endangered. A Critically Endangered status means “extremely high risk of extinction in the wild”; Endangered means “high risk of extinction in the wild”. CE is the highest level of risk before a species becomes or, usually only with a lot of effort, does not become extinct in the wild.
I was pretty shocked by that. I knew we hadn’t seen nearly enough vultures and that there were very real threats to these birds. However, the fact that, in the space of around 15 minutes in one place, we had seen four such rare and endangered species somehow masked just how special that event probably was and how big the problem they face really is.
If you think that sounds a bit overly dramatic, this is the justification that the IUCN have given to placing the White-Headed vulture on CE status in 2015:
“This species has been uplisted to Critically Endangered. Recent data suggests the already small population is declining at an extremely rapid rate owing to a variety of threats including poisoning, persecution and ecosystem alterations. The species has a very small population which constitutes a single metapopulation as there is presumed to be movement of individuals within its large range. Local extinctions may be accelerated by major poisoning events in isolated localised subpopulations.”
If you want to read more, here is the link to the National Geographic article “Vultures Are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them.” I’d also like to highlight the work of the NG photographer Charlie Hamilton-Jones who is a quite outstanding wildlife photographer. There is another article about how the photographs for this article were achieved here. (These links you should be able to access but after a bit they tend to jump up with requests to subscribe to the NGM.)