African birds of prey face massive declines


The perilous position of Africa's raptors has been highlighted after a study found that 90% of the continent's species are threatened.

Raptors in unprotected land on the continent are considered at high risk as habitat, food and breeding sites have been drastically reduced, and persecution from ivory poachers and farmers is widespread. Poisoning, electrocution and collisions with wind turbines, as well as ritual killings, were also major threats to survival.

The research was conducted by the University of St Andrews and the Peregrine Fund and an open-access report has been published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The publication warned of declines among nearly 90% of 42 species, and more than two-thirds may be globally threatened.

Species such as Long-crested Eagle are at threat, according to the report (Kris Webb).

Dr Phil Shaw, of the School of Biology at St Andrews, and Dr Darcy Ogada, of the Peregrine Fund, combined counts from road surveys conducted within four African regions at intervals of every 20-40 years.

They found raptors declined more than twice as fast outside of national parks, reserves and other protected areas. Large raptor species experienced significantly steeper declines, particularly on unprotected land due to persecution and human pressures, the study showed.

It warned eagles and vultures were unlikely to survive the 21st century on unprotected land, and highlighted steep declines among raptors classified as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Birds including Long-crested and Wahlberg's Eagles, African Hawk-Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk and Dark Chanting Goshawk declined at rates suggesting they may now be globally threatened.

Several other previously widespread raptor species, including Martial Eagle and Bateleur, are now scarce or absent from unprotected land.

Dr Phil Shaw said: "Since the 1970s, extensive areas of forest and savanna have been converted into farmland, while other pressures affecting African raptors have likewise intensified. With the human population projected to double in the next 35 years, the need to extend Africa's protected area network – and mitigate pressures in unprotected areas – is now greater than ever."

Dr Darcy Ogada added: "Africa is at a crossroads in terms of saving its magnificent birds of prey. There's no single threat imperilling these birds, it's a combination of many human-caused ones, in other words we are seeing deaths from a thousand cuts."