Archived 2012-2013 topics: Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus): uplist to Vulnerable or Endangered?

BirdLife species factsheet for Martial Eagle Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus has an extensive range across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and the Gambia, east to Ethiopia and north-west Somalia and south to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It is currently listed as Near Threatened because it approaches the thresholds for Vulnerable under criterion A2acde; it is suspected to have undergone moderately rapid declines over the past three generations (c.56 years in this species [BirdLife International, unpubl. data]), owing to habitat loss and incidental poisoning and pollution. However, recent information suggests that this species may have undergone more rapid declines than previously thought. It is generally scarce to uncommon or rare, but is reasonably common in some areas; the global population has previously been estimated at 10,000-100,000 individuals (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It is suspected to have undergone declines in much of its range, including Namibia (C. Brown in litt. 2009) and Nigeria (P. Hall in litt. 2009). Recent mapping of this species’s distribution suggests that its range has decreased in Southern Africa over the past few decades, and that it is no longer doing well even in large conservation areas such as the Kruger National Park, South Africa (Underhill 2012). Also, there has only been one report of Martial Eagle in Niger since 1997 (J. Brouwer in litt. 2012). Although the overall rate of decline is difficult to quantify, if there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the population has declined by at least 30% over the past 56 years (three generations), this species would warrant uplisting to Vulnerable under criterion A2 of the IUCN Red List. If the population has reduced by at least 50% during this period, it would warrant uplisting to Endangered. Further information is required on this species’s population size and trends, and comments on its proposed uplisting are welcome. References: Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D. A. (2001) Raptors of the world. London, UK: Christopher Helm. Underhill, L. (2012) Martial Eagles spiral downwards. Available at:

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5 Responses to Archived 2012-2013 topics: Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus): uplist to Vulnerable or Endangered?

  1. Hugo Rainey says:

    Large mammal populations in West Africa are highly threatened and the threats are likely to increase in the future as human populations continue to grow. Loss of prey base and the estimated future rate of decline of this species should be a major consideration for a revision of its status.

  2. Current research in South Africa on Martial Eagles has highlighted the necessity to uplist Martial Eagles to Vulnerable under criterion A2. In a recent MSc thesis by Daniel Cloete (submitted July 2013) which compared South African Bird Atlas Project data (SABAP 1: 1987-1993; SABAP 2: 2007-2012) it was found that Martial Eagles have declined by nearly 60% over the 20 year period spanning between the two atlas projects. D. Cloete found that Martial Eagles have also declined by 42% overall in protected areas including declines of 54% in Kruger National Park and 45% in the Kalahari National Park. The Kalahari National Park decline was confirmed by independent survey data where nesting territories have declined from 16 to 9 nest locations. This change correlates with areas where Martial Eagles have declined in the Kalahari National Park and reinforced the validity of using the SABAP projects to examine population change. Martial Eagles showed the highest declines in areas with the greatest increase in temperature and areas with high densities of power lines, probably due to collisions and electrocutions. In Kruger National Park, where Martial Eagles should be protected from many threats faced by individuals outside of protected areas (e.g. power lines, persecution etc.), higher densities of elephants were related to larger declines in Martial Eagles, probably as a result of a reduction in nesting sites or changes in habitat quality. A further plausible driver, persecution by farmers, could not be tested in this study due to a lack of adequate data. However, persecution by farmers is a well known problem in Africa (e.g. Heroldt and Kemp 1997, Brown 1991). These findings, together with estimates of the South African population which is no larger than 600 pairs (Barnes 2000) suggest that there is sufficient evidence, at least by looking at South Africa where the situation is unlikely to be unique, that the species should be uplisted to Vulnerable.

  3. Hugo Rainey says:

    Very interesting data from SABAP. If these were replicated across Africa, which could be likely, then the rate of decline could be greater than 50% over three generations (56 years) and thus would qualify for uplisting as Endangered. West African populations already seem to approach this level of decline, so there may be a widespread decline across Africa.

  4. Simon Thomsett says:

    The Martial Eagle in Kenya has most certainly declined sufficient to uplist it to Vulnerable. However the decades of declines, as much as 40% occurred in the 1970-80s, making contemporary assessments difficult to qualify.
    In Athi kapiti (2000km2) the population declined by 50% from mid 1990-2007. (5-2 pairs) This was while the area was under conservation management.
    Arid lands that make up 75% Kenya do have Martials, but over stocking and human growth is extensive and reflected in declines in game birds, bustards and small ungulates.
    There is little doubt that the Martial Eagle has declined in national parks, the majority of which are too small to hold a single pair.
    Road counts on the Mombasa road through Tsavo N P. since the 1970s indicate a 50% decline, although these data have yet to be examined.
    Martial Eagles however appear to be not as adversely affected by human settlement as are African Hawk Eagles and Bateleur, with road counts often finding them over villages. This may be explained by their massive territory use as found by Carter Ong in Nairobi National Park and Athi Kapiti during her study in 1996. She observed 3 nests in Nairobi National Park (only 114km2), all of whom foraged far outside the park, often over very densely populated urban landscapes. The implication being that protected areas offer no protection to persecution of such wide ranging raptors.
    Juveniles are seen in greater numbers than adults outside protected areas, implying the absence of adult pairs outside.
    It is a “secondary” species in some locations. “Primary” (first to go) species such as the Crowned Eagle die off leaving vacant nests and territories , sometimes to Martial Eagles. This occurred with Leslie Brown’s nests in Eagle Hill, (1979), 2 nests in forest in the Aberdares, one on slopes of Rift Valley escarpment Road.
    KWS are often called to shoot this species as has occurred on Tsavo West boundary at Rombo and nearby in a conservancy. It is actively persecuted.
    In Tanzania the species is conspicuous by its absence outside of protected Areas.
    In 3 years work in Ethiopia the species was encountered in the vast arid areas to the south between Yalebelo and Kenya Border. However these are now under massive dry agricultural schemes. It was also encountered in Nechisar and Awash, but not in Yalebelo nor in any highland area.

  5. EWT also has anecdotal information on farmers shooting large eagles such as the Martial to protect their lambs. I have also seen parts of these birds in the muthi market in Jhb.

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