The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the most endangered vulture species on earth – in fact it is considered globally Endangered by the IUCN because of a very fast decline in most part of its vast range. Turkey still has a significant breeding population, even though very little is known about the species in the country.
To find out more about its habits and conservation requirements, University of Utah researchers Dr. Cagan Sekercioglu and Evan Buechley, together with Turkish conservationists from KuzeyDoğa (Northern Nature, a regional nature conservation organisation doing work in NE Turkey) have been studying Egyptian vultures since 2009 when they set up Turkey’s first vulture restaurant in Iğdır. The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) is supporting their research.
Dr. Șekercioğlu & Evan Buechley have been catching and tagging Egyptian Vultures since 2012, and have tagged three birds each in 2012 and 2013, collecting valuable data on these birds´ migration. One of the birds, called Ardahan, marked in 2013, has travelled through 15 countries, and logged in 50,000 km in the perilous round trip migration this species makes every year to their wintering grounds in Africa. It is now back in eastern Turkey after having wintered in Ethiopia.
The research team is now in Eastern Turkey studying Egyptian Vultures, and in the first few days has already captured and tagged two Egyptian Vultures – one a sub-adult, named Tekelti, the other one an adult, which has been called Kars (see photos). Tags were successfully attached and the birds were released unharmed. Birds are caught with a modified leg hold trap that has proved very successful with this species.
This project is the first ever to tag the species in Turkey, and is a joint effort between the University of Utah, Kuzey Doga, the Ministry of Forestry and Water affairs in Turkey, and the VCF. Additional support comes from the US National Science Foundation and North Star Science and Technology.
We are assisted in the field by Lale Aktay, Kayahan Agirkaya, Emrah Coban, Joshua Horns, and Berkan Demir.
So far this research has shown that the Egyptian vultures breeding in Eastern Turkey spend the winter in the Horn of Africa, over 3,000 km to the south, primarily in the countries of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia. These birds fly much farther than this to reach their wintering grounds, however, due to the extreme difficulty of the terrain they must navigate on their migrations. They cross over the harsh Arabian and Sahara Deserts, the open ocean between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, and the hottest place on Earth; the Danakil Depression in Eastern Ethiopia. While navigating this terrain, they cover as many as 8,000 km during their migrations, can travel well over 400 km in a single day’s flight, and have reached a maximum altitude of nearly 8,000 meters. Three of the birds exhibited a clockwise migration patter, heading south through the Arabian Peninsula and returning via northeast Africa. The species migrates south in August and September and returns to Turkey in March and April.
In the past week, we have confirmed the breading of Igdir in the Aras River Bird Paradise. The Aras River Bird Paradise is an important breeding ground for this species, but is threatened by the construction of a dam on the Aras River. For more information and to sign our petition to stop construction of this dam, please visit: https://www.change.org/petitions/save-and-protect-turkey-s-arasriverbirdparadise-cbabdullahgul-rt-erdogan-veyseleroglu.
The Egyptian vulture is globally endangered and declining throughout its range in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Poisoning, electrocution and collisions with energy infrastructure, reduced food availability, and habitat destruction are the main threats to the species. Recently, populations collapsed in India, likely from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac. This drug has recently been licensed for use in Spain and Italy, posing a potentially catastrophic threat to populations of vultures in Europe. For more information on the campaign to ban veterinary diclofenac in Europe, please check http://www.4vultures.org/our-work/campaigning-to-ban-diclofenac-in-europe/
For a video on the issue of diclofenac and vultures, please see http://vimeo.com/93067364
All photos by Evan Buechley