Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres): Revise global status?

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4 Responses to Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres): Revise global status?

  1. Warren Goodwin says:

    I support the current proposal for re-assessment of the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) to ‘Vulnerable’ status.

    During the 2015 review, some evidence came to light of a stabilizing trend within the Cape Vulture population in South Africa. This was in the form of a paper by Patrick Benson (see ref). At the time it was proposed that retention of ‘Vulnerable’ status was perhaps more appropriate for this species, however as a compromise, it was eventually decided that the status of ‘Endangered’ be applied. A contributing factor at the time was the fact that around 80% of the population occurs within the borders of South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini (Swaziland) and that the species was listed as ‘Endangered’ according to The 2015 Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. The extinction of the satellite Namibian breeding colony was also taken into account at the time.

    Recently published results of ongoing monitoring from 2010 to 2019 at northern breeding colonies (by Hirschauer et al.) add further support to the assertion of a relatively stable and even increasing core population. Anecdotal evidence for other regions also suggests a similar trend, however it does seem that a more holistic monitoring approach is required. The recent genetic study (by Kleinhans and Willows-Munro) has also provided further insight into population dynamics.

    Although monitoring methods may not be standardized between different groups involved, such data gathered over a relatively long time span is nevertheless informative. Evidence is indeed mounting that this species does not meet the criteria for its current status.

    It would seem that the ongoing long-term efforts of those individuals and organizations involved in the conservation of the Cape Vulture may well have had a sustained positive effect on the population, and that while a number of threats still exist, this species should be reverted to ‘Vulnerable’ status. A great achievement in light of current circumstances.


    Benson, P. C. (2015). A survey of Cape Vulture breeding colonies in South Africa’s northern provinces (Transvaal Region) – an update 2013. Ornithol. Observations 6: 31–36.

    Hirschauer, M.T., Wolter, K., Howard, A., Rolek, B.W. and McClure, C.J.W. (2020). Population growth rates in northern Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres colonies between 2010 and 2019. Bird Conservation International.

    Kleinhans, C. and Willows-Munro, S. (2019). Low genetic diversity and shallow population structure in the endangered vulture, Gyps coprotheres. Scientific Reports 9: 5536.

  2. Walter Neser says:

    I strongly oppose the current proposal for re-assessment / change of the Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) status to ‘Vulnerable’.
    There is a very high likelihood that published numbers from more recent studies are showing higher numbers in core areas for several reasons.
    Changes in effort
    Possible over estimates (birds on cliff presumed to be breeding when not)
    Movement to core areas, while peripheral colonies go extinct.
    The breeding range has shown a marked contraction towards to core.
    Recent extinctions such as the Roberts Farm colony, in all likelihood bolstered numbers in other colonies in the core, and these extinctions / emigrations is not considered in counts showing increases in adjacent colonies.
    Until the status and trends of the population can be better assed and movements / emigrations quantified, no change in status should be made.
    To improve population data;
    data deficiencies of the satellite colonies must be addressed,
    a comprehensive population model built, based on broader long term monitoring,
    increase emphasis on, and implementation of standardised of monitoring,
    conduct an annual start of season training meet to “calibrate” observers.

    Furthermore, threats to this species are increasing, not decreasing:
    increasing number of powerlines, windfarms, loss of habitat and safe food, poisoning, trade / muthi, lead, lack of adequate consequences to perpetrators of wildlife crimes and more.
    Without increased conservation efforts, to combat this, the species will decline. Vultures have proven that they are very susceptible to singular events which can have massive effects on populations.

    Down listing will also have a negative effect on conservation efforts, while making both individuals and corporates that pose direct threats to the species less “vulnerable” themselves, as their actions would only be against a vulnerable species rather than an endangered species. EIA considerations will be different, which could bring disturbance closer to breeding sites, and criminals could face lower penalties.

    Additionally, this reported population stability may also in part be attributed to massive recent conservation efforts in the core areas, and though these efforts will hopefully continue, they must not be taken for granted in current times. Small changes can sometimes have massive effects on the status of a species.

    • Warren Goodwin says:

      We should be cognisant that this assessment has been made according to the latest available published data and Red List criteria.

      While the published data do suggest that a continued decline is likely, this figure is significantly lower than previously estimated. Genetic data has now also confirmed that there is considerable movement between the colonies, which effectively form a single population. Satellite colonies are often situated at sub-optimal sites and will naturally decline as birds move to the core areas. Depending on the circumstances, they may, or may not return once the core population has recovered and capacity is once again reached at prime sites.

      While threats do still exist, the overall pattern is one of a positive trend. This must surely be due (at least in part) to the great work that all involved have done for this species, both recently and over past decades. In my view a re-assessment to ‘Vulnerable’ should be taken as a sign that all this effort and funding continues to bear fruit, and that there is real hope for conservation of this species, as long as the work continues.

  3. Andre Botha says:

    I have been asked to share the following monitoring data from the largest known breeding colony for this species by the monitoring team who seem to not be able to access the link and post this data themselves. This is unpublished data submitted on behalf of Johan van Wyk and David Pretorius between 2006 and 2020 for the Blouberg CV breeding colony is as follows:

    Summary of count results
    Nest sites Chick count (Aug) Fledgling count (Oct)
    2006 626 394
    2007 522 401
    2005 511 287
    2009 433 312
    2010 533 364
    2011 572 432
    2012 1046 967
    2013 1161 1017
    2014 1345 1155 1055
    2015 1433 1229 1081
    2016 1454 1330 1207
    2017 1471 1312 1085
    2018 1482 1352 1203
    2019 1483 1315 1213
    2020 1483 1391 1212

    This upward trend in the largest known breeding colony for the species within its range supports the team’s agreement with the re-assessment and down-listing of the species to Vulnerable as suggested.

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