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White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 152511037

Monitor endangered and vulnerable vultures in Botswana through GPS to understand cause of decline, poaching events, and mitigate solutions.

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 152511037) - White-backed Vulture - Awarded $20,000 on January 21, 2016


As the central country in Southern Africa, and a country with significant areas of land mass set aside as wildlife protected areas, Botswana is critical for vulture populations in Southern Africa. Botswana has been described as a key refuge for vultures increasingly under threat from anthropogenic activities. The arid and semi-arid landscapes comprising scrub, tree and grass savannah habitats of the Kalahari are a stronghold for vulture species across southern Africa supporting a number of significant breeding areas and internationally Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The vast scale of the landscape and the low human density provides valuable space free from anthropogenic influences. The Kalahari region is a stronghold for vultures yet over the last decade the Kalahari and adjacent areas have witnessed, and continue to witness, many episodes of incidental and non-incidental carcass poisoning which have decimated vulture populations. Conserving vultures in Botswana will play a significant role in ensuring the regional viability of vulture populations.


Vultures are declining at an alarming rate throughout the world, including Africa. There are many threats to vultures including among others; poisoning both intentional and unintentional, elevated blood lead levels, nest disturbances, loss of key habitats and in some regions food shortages. The IUCN now lists the white-backed, white-headed and hooded vultures as critically endangered, while the lappet-faced and Cape vultures are endangered. In 2012, the Denver Zoo and Raptors Botswana initiated a project in Botswana to study the ecology and decline of 5 species of vultures (white-backed vulture, Gyps africanus; hooded vulture, Necrosyrtes monachus; Cape vulture, Gyps coprotheres; white-headed vulture, Trigonoceps occipitalis; and lappet-faced vulture, Torgos tracheliotos).


Overall Objectives

Denver Zoo’s and Raptors Botswana conservation program aims to be holistic in its approach to vulture conservation and the ultimate objective is to halt the rapid decline in vulture numbers within southern Africa. Monitoring vultures has given insight into the causes of decline and offer real time response to poisoning events.  Mitigating threats to the survival of vulture species is also important.  Community engagement, strong and effective educational programs are a very important part of the work.  We also have a strong and well developed research component and we ensure our research findings are shared with governmental agencies and other relevant groups. Capacity development is also one of our primary objectives with this study as well as advocacy. By monitoring vultures fitted with satellite transmitters allows project staff to identify and access poison sites to gather details of each event. We also pass on information to local anti-poaching authorities whom are able to travel by helicopter to any possible poaching sites to document incidents and track poachers.


Present Goals

Funding from Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund has enabled Denver Zoo and Raptors Botswana to further its conservation efforts with Botswana vultures. We will continue to deploys satellite GPS telemetry units onto vultures and monitor them as well as the transmitters already out on vultures. Our specific studies on spatial aspects of all five species of vulture will evolve.  We will continue identify and assist with vulture poisoning incidents as and when required in 2016 and beyond. Our research on the nesting behaviours, egg to fledgling success rates and important nesting habitats for lappet-faced vultures will continue during 2016. Our raptor road counts and surveys will continue enabling us to quantify raptor declines. Our efforts to shape and assist with the conservation action plans and on the ground action when needed will also continue. We will ensure our community education program evolves and keeps a strong raptor and vulture conservation education component.

Alongside our work in Botswana, Denver Zoo manages holistic conservation projects in Mongolia, the Rocky Mountain Great Plains, Peru and Vietnam committing more than $2 million annually. Denver Zoo has participated in over 600 projects in more than 60 countries on all seven continents since 1996.

Project documents