If you are on here, you know it already: biodiversity is facing major threats across the entire world. We are starting to hear a lot about conservation efforts aimed at all those charismatic endangered species, such as gorillas, pandas, tigers, and it is a good start. But this time, and especially for people like you, who have probably been exposed to conservation before, let’s discuss the plight of a group of African animals that does not enjoy the same reputation: raptors.
Africa counts 153 species of raptors. The great majority of them are facing a drastic (80 to 90%) decline in population, sometimes even disappearing from certain areas. This decline has been observed across the continent, especially outside of protected areas. It is mainly due to persecution and habitat degradation and/or loss, originating from agricultural and urban development. Persecution is mostly indirect, and happens through poisoning of carcasses to target predators. Therefore, scavenging raptors (feeding on decaying organic matter) are particularly affected by this threat. This does not only include vultures, but also species like the African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus), and Tawny Eagle (Aquila rapax).
Going back to vultures, here is an example: The Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus). This species is classified as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It means that the probability of this species going extinct in the wild in the next few generations of that species is very high. You can see on the map of their geographic range that they have disappeared in many areas, and seem extinct in South Africa, apart from the Kruger area.
So this is where fieldwork and research comes in. In order to protect species appropriately, we need to know more about them, such as population trends, habitat preferences, behavior, anything that can help implement efficient conservation strategies. For African raptors, this is such a big endeavor that centralizing continent-wide data was needed, along with an enormous team to collect that data. Sadly, conservation is still not considered a priority when allocating resources, so instead of employing an enormous team, this sector is often relying on people like you, citizen scientists, to invest their time into, let’s say, monitoring efforts. The centralizing entity in question is the African Raptor DataBank, or ARDB, and all of us can act as citizen scientists. We can contribute to this large scale survey by collecting data on raptors encountered in both protected or unprotected areas anywhere in Africa, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. The information needed includes the species, where (coordinates), when it was seen, and what its activity was (flying, nesting, etc.). Once sent to the ARDB, the data will be processed on a larger scale.
In 2018, the ARDB showed a total number of 201,620 records. Namibia and South Africa are largely contributing, but most African countries are lacking data. So if you are based in Africa, or only there for a visit, wherever you are, look up, and help protecting raptors. Have a look at the link below if you want to know more.
About the Author:
Fleur Visser is an early career researcher based in Southern Africa and focusing on wildlife conservation. She holds a Master of Science degree specialising in endangered species recovery from Nottingham Trent University, UK. https://www.linkedin.com/in/fleur-visser-7a3226137