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... Snake Sunday, Mad Mammal Monday, Tree Tuesday, Weaver Wednesday, what next? ... Today we usher in Threat Thursday. Each week we will focus on a threatened species, from any taxon. Recently, three bird species that occur in South Africa have had their threat status put into more serious categories on the IUCN Red List for birds. One of these is the White-backed Vulture.
We asked Mark Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa – who also took this magnificent photo – to comment: "The conservation status of the White-backed Vulture was recently made no less than two categories worse. 'Uplisting' by two categories is rare. This vulture has gone from Near-Threatened to Endangered in one move. This dramatic change in status is due to threats throughout the species' range but especially in West and East Africa. In South Africa there's no evidence during the past two decades of significant changes in population status. The range change map shows that species has not yet been recorded during SABAP2 in certain areas which it frequented during SABAP1, but these are mostly poorly atlased areas. There is an encouraging number of cells which are blue, representing areas where the species was not recorded during SABAP1.
"The White-backed Vulture's future is dependent on the availability of wild ungulate and domestic livestock carcasses, and especially food which is not contaminated with poison (used to control black-backed jackals) and veterinary medicines (such as certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Vulture restaurants can be used to supplement the species' food supply. White-backed Vultures nest in loose colonies on tall trees (especially acacia trees) and occasionally on electricity pylons, and these colonies should be protected – either as national parks, or nature reserves, or as biodiversity stewardship sites. The key White-backed Vulture colonies should be recognized as Important Bird Areas.
"There are also a number of anthropogenic threats which are relatively easy to address, such as preventing electrocutions by constructing vulture-friendly electricity pylons, and preventing drownings by modifying farm reservoirs. The effect of lead fragments from hunted game animals on vultures in southern Africa is not well known. Vulture parts are in demand for traditional purposes and an extensive awareness campaign will be needed to reduce this threat. Monitoring of White-backed Vulture population numbers and trends is necessary, and this should involve annual counts and the determination of breeding success at important colonies."
Thanks, Mark, for providing these insights, and for initiating Threat Thursday. And, yes, this is yet another motivation to atlasers of the importance of trying to deepen SABAP2 coverage in the thinly covered areas of North West and the Northern Cape.