Archived 2012-2013 topics: Arabian Bustard (Ardeotis arabs) and Nubian Bustard (Neotis nuba): request for information

BirdLife species factsheets for Arabian Bustard and Nubian Bustard Arabian Bustard Ardeotis arabs and Nubian Bustard Neotis nuba are found from the Sahel zone of West Africa, with Nubian occurring marginally in the Saharan zone, and both species range east through Chad and Sudan, with Arabian Bustard also ranging into Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and to the south-western Arabian Peninsula. N. nuba is listed as Near Threatened under criteria A2c,d; A3c,d; A4c,d on the basis that it is suspected to be undergoing a moderately rapid decline, estimated at 20-29% over 10 years, owing to intense hunting pressure in parts of its range, among other potential threats. BirdLife estimates the generation length for this species to be c.10.3 years, thus the rate of decline should now be estimated for a three-generation trend period of 31 years. A. arabs is listed as Least Concern on the basis that it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence of less than 20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (fewer than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be at least 10% over ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). Survey results and anecdotal observations from the more accessible and better monitored parts of the range of A. arabs suggest that this species has undergone a rapid decline in recent decades owing to habitat destruction and hunting (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Thiollay 2006). Vehicle-based transect surveys for raptors in the Sahel zone of Mali and Niger in 2004 failed to record any bustard species, despite both A. arabs and N. nuba being frequently recorded along the same transects in 1971 and 1973 (Thiollay 2006). Bustards can be inconspicuous, which, coupled with the focus of these surveys on raptors, means that some birds were probably missed, and local hunters reported that bustard species were still extant in the surveyed areas; however, the difference between the survey results from the early 1970s and 2004 most likely indicates dramatic declines in these species (Thiollay 2006). Despite the Sahel zone seeing only a limited impact from West Africa’s rapid human population growth, along with low population densities and a predominantly traditional nomadic lifestyle, habitat degradation is occurring through the thinning of sparse non-regenerating Acacia woodlands, as well as the over-grazing of sub-desert steppes and excessive harvesting of firewood, which are followed by wind erosion and sand encroachment. However, overhunting is probably the main cause of declines in the bustard species of Sahelian West Africa. Off-take by local nomads has been augmented by the hunting activities of military and mining personnel and tourists (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Thiollay 2006). The population of A. arabs on the Arabian Peninsula is very small and likely to be in decline owing to hunting, habitat loss and the effects of pesticides (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species is reportedly still fairly common in parts of western Yemen; however, the intensification of agriculture may pose a threat (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Additional information on these species is requested, in particular on the severity of threats and likely population trends throughout their ranges. Any evidence of a decline approaching 30% (typically 20-29%) over the last three generations, estimated by BirdLife to be c.47 years (one generation = c.15.6 years), would probably qualify A. arabs for uplisting to Near Threatened under criterion A. If the rates of decline in either species were suspected to be at least 30% over three generations (c.31 years for N. nuba; BirdLife International unpubl. data) they would be eligible for listing as Vulnerable, and a suspected decline of at least 50% over three generations would qualify them as Endangered. The threshold for Critically Endangered is a decline of at least 80% over three generations. References: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1996) Handbook of the birds of the world, Vol 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions. Thiollay, J.-M. (2006) Severe decline of large birds in the Northern Sahel of West Africa: a long-term assessment. Bird Conserv. Int. 16: 353-365.

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12 Responses to Archived 2012-2013 topics: Arabian Bustard (Ardeotis arabs) and Nubian Bustard (Neotis nuba): request for information

  1. Abdi Jama says:

    The handsome arabs graces us with a seasonal visit from places northeast in July, August and September magically not much beyond 43E along the huge, sparsely populated but woody Giriyaad Plains in extreme western Somaliland bordering Djibouti.

    After September, these birds disappear!

    Other than the occasional Arabian hunting and collecting party, this bird faces no noticeable, human-caused problems.

    Having known about arabs in Somaliland and Djibouti for less than five years now, I can’t say much about any trends but we surely will be keeping taps on them going forward.

  2. Jugal Tiwari says:

    I worked in Eritrea from September 2000 till June 2003 as an Ecologist with the Seawater Farms Eritrea. I was based in Massawa and have surveyed the coast of Eritrea many times using Toyota trucks. On my surveys for Mangroves on the Red Sea coast starting from Massawa to Asseb I came across the Arabian Bustards on atleast 5 occasions, the places closed to Foro, Jula, Galelo, Edi were the areas where I spotted 2-3 Arabian Bustards. Locals (Afars) were least bothered by the presence of these birds. I have taken some photos of the birds.

    I think the Arabian Bustard was doing OK in Eritrea. I never came across any Arabian Bustard on Sudan coast.

    Jugal Tiwari
    Moti Virani, Kutch, Gujarat India 370665

  3. Nik Borrow says:

    A purely subjective response regarding the populations of Arabian Bustard in West Africa would be that this species is getting harder to find in the Djoudj area in Senegal and also Waza National Park in Cameroon. These have both been reliable places to see the bird but during recent BirdQuest tours that I have led I have either struggled to see the birds or indeed missed them completely.

  4. Philip Hall says:

    Arabian Bustards may well have been extirpated in NIgeria. Formally they were reasonably common in the Lake Chad area but there have now been no records for a number of years. Over the border in Waza National Park in Cameroon, I saw 2 birds last year and I believe that this is still the only area that they can be still found albeit in much reduced numbers.

  5. R Buij says:

    Arabian Bustard:
    Observed with regularity in Waza N.P. between 2006-10, also singles on desiccated floodplains east and north of the Waza N.P. during Jan-March (2009 and 2010). I recorded on average 1-3 ind. on 90-km transects in and around Waza N.P. (max: 8 in 2007). Corrupt management resulted in strong poaching pressure especially in the floodplain section of the park between 2007-09, the situation has improved now with a new warden. Arabian Bustards regularly drink at Waza’s water holes which increases their vulnerability to poachers who used dens at water holes to shoot kobs and other wildlife, occasionally also poisoning water holes. I found a poached Denham’s Bustard in a poacher camp in Waza in June 2009. My data too few to evaluate trends but this population’s persistence obviously depends on Waza’s management, particularly its warden; a few more bad years may result in the disappearance of Arabian Bustards from the park.

  6. I have conducted several hundred kilometers of driven transect surveys in Mauritania primarily looking for Nubian bustard (two locations). So far I have failed to see any. Please contact me if you require more info.

  7. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were sent by Paul Robinson:

    Otis arabs – Red List information for Senegal

    The review of observations for Senegal up to 19801 records the species from five of the seven one degree squares entirely or substantially in Senegal north of 150. The authors note, though with no supporting numbers, a marked decline after being “common” at these latitudes in the 1950s and 60s. During 1984-1994, the Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj2 is noted as having counts usually less than five, but 10 on one occasion in 1991 and in the same period3 a new square provides the first record south of 150.

    Records from the Reserves de Faune du Ferlo-Nord and Ferlo- Sud in 1996 (Ornis Consult) and the Reserves Sylvo-Pastorale de Velingara in 2011 (PR) and des Six Forages in 2011-12 (C R-V) and Djoudj in 2011 (various), mean the species is reasonably recently recorded from all the one degree squares noted up to 1980, so at least at that coarse scale there is no range contraction. The difference between 1990s and 2010s data only reflects years the squares were most recently visited and records reported. For Djoudj, the maximum count for 1984-94 has not been reached since, from regular observations since 1996 (IN). These are the data, implying a decline for the one site (Djoudj) for which there are some numbers across the years, which fits Nick Borrow’s observations from Djoudj reported earlier to the forum. There is then anecdote that birds are less often seen by the local population (reported to PR) and are hunted by visitors from outside the region (reported to C R-V).

    Paul Robinson, Céline Roux-Vollon, Idrissa Ndiaye.


    1. Morel, G.J. & Morel, M-Y. 1990. Les oiseaux de Sénégambie. Notices et cartes de distribution. ORSTOM.
    2. Rodwell, S.P. et al. 1996. An annotated check-list of bird occurring at the Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj in Senegal, 1984-1994. Malimbus 17. 74-111.
    3. Sauvage, A. & Rodwell, S.P. 1998. Notable observations of birds in Senegal (excluding Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj, 1984-1994. Malimbus, 20. 75-122.

  8. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were sent by Joust Brouwer on 20 February 2012:

    For large bustards in Niger, Joh Newby and Tim Wacher of the Sahara Conservation Fund and Zoological Society London do indeed have the best information. As John said, there are stillsome good spots in Niger, especially for Nubian Bustard and perhaps Arabian Bustard, but overall the picure is not good. There are few recent reports from around Agadez and along the border with Mali, but it is said that on the hunting blocks there bustards have become very thin on the ground. My gut feeling is that Nubian is doing slightly better than Arabian, but I stand to be corrected by John and Tim. NiBDaB data not publicly available, because of the threats to large bustards, but available on request. Should not both species be listed as Vulnerable at least?

  9. I am living in Djibouti since my birth sometimes back early sixties and I am working from 1998 till now as a Self-taught – Ecologist. I am based in Djibouti city, the capital of the country named similarly as the name of the country and have surveyed almost the entire land of Djibouti many times, sometimes alone, sometimes with experts such as Geoff and Hilary Welch, references for Djibouti birds. Many of my visits in the field was for bird watching tour, surveys and awareness raising for nature conservation were started from Djibouti city, where I am living and working, the Gulf of Aden Sea cost mainly using Toyota Land Cruiser 4X4. Since 1998 in many occasions and sparsely I recorded Arabian Bustards in many plains and plateaus from the sea level up to 700m above the sea level in Dikri, Grand et petit Bara, Gachamaleh in Ali-Sabieh in the south and Goba’ad, Hanlé in Dikhil in the southwest and Doda, Andaba and Magdoul in Tadjoura in the northwestern. For me the presence of pastoralists (Somali and Afar) with their livestock in permanent move for grazing in these areas that I observed the Arabian Bustards in Djibouti didn’t show any negative impact on the birds at least during my various occasions that I visited the range of the birds in my country. It seemed to even, that the birds got benefit from the presence of the livestock in the area because I occasionally observed Arabian bustards following goats and catching insects once it disturbed by the livestock. I didn’t visit these areas in recent time. In my opinion, I think that Arabian Bustards are not in big threat in Djibouti but as its status is never assessed as many other threatened or less concern status species in Djibouti may be a quick study is needed to fix its conservation status.

  10. Never seen any of both species in 4 short field surveys in Central Sudan outside Dinder National Park (SE Sudan, near border with Ethiopia) where I saw several individuals of Ardeotis arabs in the limited surveyed space, thus possibly indicative of relatively good densities (?). Also recorded one individual of Ardeotis arabs in South Sudan (Sudd)

  11. Tim Wacher says:

    We have collected data on all sahelian bustards encountered in a series of surveys across Niger and Chad . The dominant species covered are Nubian, Arabian and Denham’s, with very few encounters with Savile’s and White-bellied. The information is summarised the reports posted on the Sahara Conservation Fund’s website listed above. Once on the SCF resources page select reports and scroll down e.g. to ‘Pan-Sahara Wildlife Survey section. some of the most detailed information is lodged within PSWS Technical reports. No. 2 (Gadabeji Niger), No. 4 (Manga & Eguey Chad), & Nos. 5,7 & 11 for surveys in the Ouadi Rime-Ouadi Achim (OROA). There is also an extensive string of bustard sightings mentioned in some of the Termit Tin Toumma (Niger) reports. All sightings are geo-referenced through a cybertracker sequence, some local density estimates are made and seasonal comparisons of relative abundance and distribution made for OROA (PSWS Tech. Report 11).

  12. Richard Porter says:

    For Yemen and Saudi you must consult Jacky Judas (in UAE) who has been studying the species there for many years. From my own observations in Yemen over 35 years I am not convinced that agricultural change has adversely affected it to any great extent (but Jacky’s views important). Certainly on my last visit to the breeding areas on the Tihamah it was easily located. There is concern by Yemeni conservationists about hunting trips by Saudis. With the worsening economic situation in Yemen it is likely that it will be increasingly hunted for food. It is caught and sold (live) in the markets in Sana’a.

    (please note that Richard’s post refers to Arabian Bustard)

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