Vultures are critical to healthy ecosystems. And yet across the world vulture populations are in rapid decline.
That’s why we’ve launched a new research project, Conserving Malawi’s Vultures, that will fill critical knowledge gaps for the region and develop Malawi’s first-ever vulture-focused conservation initiatives, using a combination of research, monitoring and public engagement.
Eleven vulture species occupy ranges in Africa, seven of which are categorised as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Declines in vulture populations have devastating impacts on ecosystems, and social and economic health, including increased disease transmissions in both wildlife and humans. A number of factors have contributed to Africa’s vulture decline, the foremost of which is poisoning and human persecution (see below video for more). Conservation initiatives are further hindered by the large multi-country home ranges which many vultures inhabit and vast knowledge gaps within these ranges. Addressing these gaps is therefore critical.
VULTURES IN MALAWI
Malawi boasts a number of important vulture habitats and is thought historically to have acted as an important stepping-stone between southern and eastern African vulture populations. However, a lack of research and monitoring has led to the silent extirpation of vultures across the majority of Malawi. Recently, due to an increase in ecosystem restoration initiatives, vultures have slowly returned to select protected areas in Malawi, creating a renewed and exciting opportunity for the research and conservation of these highly threatened species.
LWT’s Conserving Malawi’s Vultures project works with a number of partners to integrate research, monitoring and public engagement. A large aspect of this work seeks to address the knowledge gaps on Malawi’s vulture populations identified by the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan, a collaborative conservation strategy adopted by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
CAPTURE AND TAGGING
The first step to understanding the behavioural ecology of vultures across Malawi is to develop an understanding of how they use the landscape. Led by vulture expert Andre Botha (of the Endangered Wildlife Trust), our research team recently captured and tagged a total of 16 critically endangered vultures in the Southern Region (Majete Wildlife Reserve) and Northern Region (Nyika National Park). Photos of the expedition above.
Initial findings have shown that vultures within the Southern Region use the area’s mosaic of parks and wildlife reserves. Vultures tagged in Majete Wildlife Reserve were reported in both Lengwe and Liwonde National Park within days of being tagged. One satellite-tagged vulture also undertook multiple movements between Majete Wildlife Reserve and Lengwe National Park.
Vultures captured and tagged in Nyika National Park have yet to be reported outside of the Nyika Plateau. Given the distance to neighbouring Tanzania and Zambia, it is likely these birds move and forage between protected areas such as North Luangwa National Park, Zambia, and Ruaha National Park, Tanzania, rather than parks in the Southern Region of Malawi.
TRAINING AND ENGAGEMENT
A critical part of the project also involved building capacity for key stakeholders, through expert training by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Hawk Conservancy Trust. During the capture mission a number of LWT staff and a research officer from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) were trained on the handling and tagging of vultures. A Wildlife Poisoning Response Workshop was also delivered in Majete Wildlife Reserve for law enforcement staff. In addition, a series of seminars on vulture conservation, status and threats were delivered to members of DNPW, the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development, professors and students from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources and LWT staff.