Conservation Projects

Bird of prey conservation, education and research.

The threats facing bird of prey populations around the world are numerous. A majority of species are under pressure to a lesser or greater extent. Apart from local and/or species specific threats, widespread threats include:

  • poisoning;
  • habitat modification and loss;
  • direct and indirect persecution;
  • the regulated and unregulated use of chemicals toxic to birds of prey and other animals;
  • the proliferation of infrastructure associated with energy (such as wind turbines);
  • and an unsustainable trade in wild birds of prey.

The combined impact of these and other threats presents a poor prognosis for many species. The conservation actions used to defend against these threats are varied and often innovative.

Tracking Egyptian Vultures in Central Asia.

What’s the Problem?

Migration is one of the most dangerous times for birds, and populations of many migratory species are in rapid decline. This is also the case for the Egyptian Vulture, the only true migrant among the Old World vultures, and an Endangered species. There are two distinct populations of Egyptian Vulture, one across Africa, the Middle East and Europe and the other in central and south Asia. A big challenge with conserving migratory species is that birds often encounter different threats in the different areas they spend their time. This can be in the breeding grounds, where they spend the winter, or along their migration routes. The variation in the threats Egyptian Vultures face is well studied for the population in Europe, Middle East and Africa, but very little is known about the threats to Egyptian Vultures that migrate in central Asia.

The project aims to address this critical gap in knowledge, so we can understand the threats they face and how to effectively implement conservation actions for this Endangered species.

The Project

This exciting project is tracking Egyptian Vulture movements in central Asia for the first time. This invaluable research will help researchers to understand more about this Endangered species and how we can ensure its survival in central Asia.

This research is being carried out in Uzbekistan, as it is the perfect location to focus on migratory birds in the central Asian population and is the only country in central Asia with a recently updated National Action Plan for Egyptian Vultures. Uzbekistan is also at the crossroads of two major migration flyways used by many bird species, so research on migration routes and major threats along those routes is beneficial for a number of birds of prey and other species using the flyways.

The fieldwork takes place in the Kyzylkum desert, where the field team have identified areas where Egyptian Vultures are nesting in order to find young birds to tag. Juvenile birds are fitted with GPS satellite tags just before they fledge from their nest, so their movements as they migrate can be tracked. The tags use cutting-edge satellite telemetry technology to track the birds’ movements, give us multiple GPS points per day, and will last for more than three years. This will provide us with a wealth of extremely valuable data and information about the timings and routes of their migrations.

The project will take place over several years, with plans to tag multiple birds each year, to gather as much data about their movements as possible.

The project started in August 2021, where the team successfully tagged three juvenile birds. The following year, the team was able to tag five more individuals including the first adult, and four more adults in the third year with 12 birds now tagged in total so far. Tagging more adult birds will hopefully give us some useful insights into routes the more experienced birds take during migration. The field team have also found several congregation sites where adults feed around dumpsites as well as new breeding territories in southern Uzbekistan, a vital find for their future conservation.

Project Outcomes

Each of the first juvenile birds that were tagged took very different routes after leaving their nests, with some surprising results! Two of the birds, Arys and Anya, took relatively similar routes, through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, with both ultimately concluding their inaugural journeys to winter in northern India. Timur, however, took a very different route, with an incredible 6200km journey in total. After leaving Uzbekistan and passing through Turkmenistan, he made a much longer journey further to the west with several stops, pausing in Iran, then continuing around the Persian Gulf through Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, eventually reaching Yemen in late November 2021.

So far, we have learnt that the picture is much more complex than we anticipated. This ground-breaking research is absolutely vital for the future conservation of the species.

Project Collaborators

The project is run by Dr Robert (John) Burnside (University of East Anglia), Dr Vladimir Dobrev (Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds), Anna Ten and Valentin Soldatov (Institute of Zoology, Uzbekistan).

We will raise donations to fund satellite tags for the birds, along with Oriental Bird Club and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East.

Poison Response Action – Another Continental Vulture Crisis

Vultures as a group are the most threatened birds in the world. Of the 23 species of vultures in the world, over 70% of them have an unfavourable conservation status, meaning that they’re at risk of going extinct.

Poisoning is the biggest threat facing vulture populations in Africa, and in particular this threat has grown rapidly with the increasing slaughter of elephants by poachers. Poisoning associated with ivory poaching now accounts for one third of all vulture poisonings since 1970 and is currently the biggest cause of vulture mortality.

In 2015, Dr Campbell Murn, and Africa Project Officer, Andre Botha, co-authored a paper that led to the uplisting of six of Africa’s eleven species of vulture to critically endangered. The paper, Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction, showed that Africa’s vultures are facing a range of specific threats, the most significant of which are poisoning and trade in traditional medicines, which together have accounted for 90 per cent of reported deaths.

Poison Response Kits

Poisoning caused large population declines (50-100%) in almost all cases where it occurred. In more than one case, the average time to extinction was 50-60 years. The results show that carcasses of elephants killed by poachers and laced with poison are a clear and present danger; they will lead to local extinctions of vulture populations.

More encouragingly, the analysis also showed that where field staff are trained and equipped to neutralise poisoned carcasses and reduce poison-related mortalities, the probability of local populations going extinct is reduced significantly.

The HKT have developed a project with partners at the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the University of Reading to provide Poison Response Kits and a training programme to field staff in high-risk areas in southern and south-eastern Africa. This work is extremely important as it trains and equips field staff to deal with poisoning events when they occur.

Targeted Action for Vultures

Survival of adult birds is extremely important for vulture populations to remain healthy, so the results indicate opposite forecasts for the two populations. The KZN population is unfortunately likely to suffer rapid declines due to high mortality of adult birds, whilst the outlook for the Kruger population is brighter.

A study highlights the need to target conservation work, such as the Poison Response Action, in specific areas. We need to direct activities to areas of high conservation importance, such as breeding colonies and poisoning hotspots. These areas could be protected by initiating Vulture Safe Zones in southern Africa, which are used successfully in South Asia, where our Pakistan Vulture Restoration Project which is working to conserve Asian vultures.

YOU can help!

Each poison response kit costs £300 and after a poisoning incident each kit needs to be replenished at a cost of £180. You can help us raise the funds needed to provide these kits that could save thousands of vultures and other wildlife from an unnecessary death due to poison.

Poison response kits contain a range of equipment and first aid materials and are designed to reduce the impacts of poisoned carcasses on wildlife. Often, poisons are so toxic that vultures can die with food still in their mouths. This means that work must take place as soon as possible to prevent further deaths. With a quick response and the effective use of Poison Response Kits, hundreds of animals can be saved from death by poisoning. Please click here to donate.