*Please note that BirdLife International will soon adopt ‘Bearded Vulture’ as the English name for this species.
This discussion was first published as part of the 2012 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2014.
Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) Gypaetus barbatus is a widespread inhabitant of mountainous areas in Asia, parts of northern, eastern and southern Africa, and southern Europe. It is listed as Least Concern on the basis that it is currently 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 may be small, 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).
Despite its current global Red List status, this species has been classed as endangered at the national level in many range states, and regarded as data deficient in many others (Gil et al. 2008, 2009; GRIN 2011 and references therein). It is widely regarded that this species is in decline globally; however, the overall rate of decline has apparently not been estimated. Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) describe the species as having apparently experienced massive declines over the last two centuries. They also highlight that its range has been greatly reduced since the 1940s. The main causes of on-going declines appear to be non-target poisoning, direct persecution, habitat degradation, disturbance of breeding birds, inadequate food availability and collisions with power-lines (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) estimated the global population at fewer than 10,000 pairs, suggesting that there are fewer than 20,000 mature individuals; however, more recently the species was estimated to number between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals (Gil et al. 2008).
The species is scarce and declining in several sub-regions, especially southern Africa, where a relatively recent range contraction is thought to have been due to displacement by humans and livestock at lower elevations, along with other forms of habitat degradation (GRIN 2011 and references therein). Declines have also been noted in Free State and in former Transvaal, where it is now considered a vagrant, although in KwaZulu-Natal it may have expanded its range. Other threats affecting the species in southern Africa include targeted and incidental poisoning, other forms of direct persecution (including for traditional uses), changes in livestock-rearing practices, electrocution and collision with power-lines and habitat loss to development projects (GRIN 2011 and references therein). Simmons and Jenkins (2007) suggested that population trends in this species in southern Africa are correlated with climate trends. In addition, apparently severe declines have been noted in Ethiopia, and perhaps Eritrea, since the 1970s (Ash and Atkins 2009).
In Europe, the species appears to be increasing in the Alps and Pyrenees, although the overall population trend in Europe is unknown, and the EU species action plan is regarded as having been well-implemented overall; however, significant threats remain, including lead poisoning and wind-farm development (reviewed by BirdLife International 2011).
The species’s status across its vast range in Asia is less certain, although it is likely to be more secure. In South Asia, the species is described as locally common, with the on-going clearance of remaining forest tracts in the lower Himalayas said to probably favour range expansion (Naoroji 2006). Similarly, it is described as frequent in Bhutan (Spierenburg 2005).
Data and observations regarding population trends and numbers throughout the species’s range are requested so that a comprehensive review of its global threat status can be carried out. In particular, information is needed from China and Mongolia, northern South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East (especially Iran), south-eastern Europe (especially Turkey) and East Africa.
If evidence points towards a decline approaching 30% (typically 20-29%) over the last three generations, estimated by BirdLife to be c.53 years, then the species may be eligible for uplisting to Near Threatened under the A criteria. A decline of 30-49% over 53 years would qualify the species for uplisting to Vulnerable.
Ash, J. and Atkins, J. (2009) Birds of Ethiopia & Eritrea: an atlas of distribution. London, UK: Christopher Helm.
BirdLife International (2011) Review of the Implementation of Species Action Plans for Threatened Birds in the European Union (2004-2010). Brussels, Belgium: BirdLife International.
Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D. A. (2001) Raptors of the World. London, UK: Christopher Helm.
Gil, J. A., Díez, O., Lorente, L., Báguena, G., Chéliz, G. and Ascaso, J. C. (2008) Tras el vuelo del quebrantahuesos. La Garcilla 137: 16-17.
Gil, J. A., Díez, O., Lorente, L., Báguena, G., Chéliz, G. and Ascaso, J. C. (2009) On the trail of the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus): world distribution and population. Fundación para la Conservación del Quebrantahuesos.
Global Raptor Information Network (GRIN) (2011) Species account: Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 5 Sep. 2011.
Naoroji, R. (2006) Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent. London, UK: Christopher Helm.
Simmons, R.E., and Jenkins, A. R. (2007) Is climate change influencing the decline of Cape and Bearded Vultures in southern Africa? Vulture News 56: 41-51.
Spierenburg, P. (2005) Birds in Bhutan: Status and Distribution. Bedford, UK: Oriental Bird Club.