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The Endangered Wildlife Trust Welcomes the publication of the Multi-species Biodiversity Management Plan

The Endangered Wildlife Trust welcomes the publication for implementation of the Multi-species Biodiversity Management Plan for Vultures in South Africa.

It has been extremely encouraging to see the engagement of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment with other stakeholders in the drafting and gazetting of the National Multi-species Biodiversity Management Plan for Vultures in South Africa over the last five years. There is, however, much work to do securing the resources and the development of capacity at all levels to support and ensure the successful implementation of the plan on a national scale.

Vultures, which are among the most endangered functional group of species worldwide, face a number of threats on a daily basis. This Biodiversity Management Plan is a vital guide to ensuring vulture populations, most of which are under threat, thrive in a safe and secure environment.

The conservation of southern Africa’s vulture populations is one of the pillars on which the EWT was established more than 50 years ago and we continue a proud history of vulture conservation to this day, working with a wide range of partners and stakeholders to conserve, monitor and conduct research on vultures and their habitats in the country and further a-field. Specific areas of focus in our South African work includes addressing threats such as poisoning, promoting and working towards the establishment of Vulture Safe Zones where all relevant threats are addressed and promoting the responsible provision of supplementary feeding to vultures where appropriate. The EWT is also an active member of various vulture focused forums such as the National Vulture Task Force, Bearded Vulture Task Force and the National Wildlife Poisoning Prevention Working Group. It is largely thanks to the dedicated work of the EWT and its many partners and associates over many years that the Cape Vulture was down-listed from globally endangered to vulnerable in 2022.

The review of the Mid-Term Implementation Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP), released during the Convention on Migratory Species COP14 in Uzbekistan in February 2024, found that although the threats affecting vultures have not changed in recent years, problems related to intentional poisoning for belief-based use, bushmeat and trade is a more severe problem than appreciated in the past, especially in West Africa.  It also found that collision risk for vultures will increase as the global shift to renewable energy increases and that mortalities from electrocution partly associated the switch to green energy is also on the rise.

Among the emerging threats identified are climate change and  highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza which can significantly impact critically endangered and endangered species already under pressure from other known threats..

Vulture populations are declining at a precipitous rate across Africa where data remains scant. The report states that the amount of work done towards achieving the results envisaged by the Vulture MsAP is testament to the efforts of many stakeholders, including the many NGOs, working in the field.

The Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) highlights the crucial role that vultures play in maintaining a healthy environment.  They serve as nature’s clean-up crew by efficiently disposing of carcasses and other organic waste in the landscape, while also directly benefiting people.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified eight of the 15 Old World vulture species, of which 11 are found in Africa, as Critically Endangered. African vultures have faced declines ranging from 80 to 97% in the past 30 years, with South Africa experiencing a rapid decline in vulture numbers.

South Africa is home to nine vulture species, seven of which have established breeding populations.  The Multi-species BMP for Vultures covers all the breeding residents:  Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus), White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Cape Vulture (Gyos coprotheres), Lappet-faces Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) and the Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis).  It also deals with the management of vagrant species such as the Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii) and the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus).

The vision of the Multi-Species BMP is to create a safe and secure environment to grow a healthy population of vultures in South Africa that allows vultures to fulfil all the ecosystem services that are crucial to the environment and which also benefits humans and their livelihoods.

The aim is to not only reduce and eventually halt the intentional poisoning of vultures, but to work alongside traditional medicine practitioners to ensure the implementation of responsible and sustainable practices that will contribute to the conservation of the species.  It also aims to ensure that any veterinary or human pharmaceuticals that impact on vultures are kept out of the food chain while providing environmentally friendly alternative measures to control damage causing animals to avoid causing harm to non-target species, including vultures.

Among the other aims is to reduce lead exposure to vultures and so preventing lead poisoning; reducing vulture deaths caused by existing energy infrastructure and to increase the area of land under protection.

The Multi-Species BMP is an important mechanism that can be used to implement local conservation action and thus prevent the extinction of vultures in South Africa, but also supports cross-border cooperation with neighbouring states accounting for the fact that these birds regularly range and cross international boundaries at will.

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