A death trap for the Egyptian Vultures in Africa [ 2010-10-11 10:54:50 ]

A joint expedition between BSPB and the Sudanese Wildlife Society (25.IX-5.X.2010) has found 17 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures. The main study area of the expedition was the Red Sea coast in North-Eastern Sudan.

The finding of the dead birds under a particular power line in the surroundings of Port Sudan confirms a threat there which is known to cause the death of many birds since many years and continues to take victims. Still in 1982-83 the German ornithologist Gerhard Nikolaus found under the same power line almost 55 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures and during next visit in the area 21 years later, he found another 5 dead birds. Until now there are found almost 80 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures but this is only the tip of the iceberg since the power line is built in the 1950es and probably has caused the death of hundreds and may be more than a thousand Egyptian Vultures.

In the past the area around Port Sudan was the most significant known stop-over site of the species in Sudan during its autumn migration. But in spite that the expedition was implemented in the period of most intensive migration of the Egyptian Vultures, they were found in very low numbers.

Not only the Egyptian Vultures were found to be victims of this particular dangerous power line, but also Lappet-faced Vultures, Steppe Eagles and also during the expedition we found electrocuted Bonelli’s Eagle and nearby territorial pair which was previously not known to occur in Sudan.

The probable high mortality during the migration and in the wintering sites is considered to be one of the main reasons in the complex of threats leading to the fast decline of the Egyptian Vultures in the Balkans. Data from the monitoring in Bulgaria and Macedonia for the last 8 years, shows that in the spring significant part of the birds do not return to their breeding territories. It is well known that often during migration and wintering the Egyptian Vultures prefer to roost on electric poles. The power line causing the death of so many vultures from the endangered species is situated in close distance to big farms which attract many birds and cover area of a several square kilometers. On the other hand until the last year this was the only power line going out of the town and offering an attractive roosting site for the birds.

This power line supplies with electricity and ensures the work of pumps in the water supply zone which give water to the almost 500 000 inhabitants in the town. We assume that the decades of such impact on the species caused by this single extremely dangerous power line may have caused the extinction of Egyptian Vultures populations which traditionally migrate along the western Red Sea coasts and breed in Eastern Europe, Western and Central Asia and the Middle East. Following the results from the expedition, a huge priority in the species’ conservation will be the insulation of the dangerous power line near by Port Sudan and convincing of the Sudanese Electricity Company to use a safe model of pylons.
It is still not known whether the Bulgarian birds use this migratory route but we hope that the future research using satellite telemetry will reveal more and will assure a better planning of the conservation measures which necessarily need to cross the national borders.

We thank to the Sudanese Wildlife Administration for assuring the safe implementation of the expedition. For the financial support we thank to African Bird Club, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Stitching Vulture Conservation Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK.