Protecting the pharaoh’s chicken

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Cloé Pourchier, Sahara Conservation Fund project officer, talks about her work with the Egyptian vultures in Niger…

Five facts

• Other names: The white scavenger vulture or the pharaoh’s chicken.
• Appearance: Similar to the palm-nut vulture, but recognisable by its black-and-white plumage and
a bare yellow face.
• Tool use: Egyptian vultures have been known to use pebbles to break eggs and sticks to collect wool
for nests.
• Vagrants: Can occur as far south as South Africa and occasionally in Sri Lanka.
• Three subspecies: N. p. percnopterus is the most widely distributed and distinguished by its dark grey bill. N. p. ginginianus from the Indian subcontinent is the smallest of the three subspecies and has a pale yellow bill. N. p. majorensis does not migrate, occurs in the Canary Islands, and is larger than the other birds.

The Egyptian Vulture NEW LIFE project was launched in 2017 to protect the Egyptian vulture across their range, from their breeding grounds in Europe to Africa. The aim of the project is to increase the Egyptian vulture populations in the Balkans, reduce adult mortality, reinforce the breeding population and create awareness of the species.

Egyptian vulture populations are steadily declining and this Old World vulture is now considered Endangered. While a large distribution range and migration patterns should help the species be more resilient, it does the opposite – the birds are exposed to a wider range of pressures in different countries as they migrate.

To date, 14 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are part of this project and are working together to increase Egyptian vulture populations by 15%. In Africa, the countries of Niger, Nigeria and Ethiopia are actively involved in the project. Once an Egyptian vulture juvenile has fledged the nest it will spend two years in Africa.

Ethiopia hosts the largest wintering population registered in Africa. Niger, on the other hand, is home to a small but unique population of Egyptian vultures made up of both migrant and resident vultures that reside in the Sahelo-Saharan territory.

The Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) has carried out monitoring activities in the Koutous massif (Zinder Region) of Niger since 2015. With the help of local villagers, six Egyptian vulture territories have been identified. In four of these territories, the occupant pairs were observed repeatedly in the same locations.
In addition to monitoring, investigation work has improved the team’s knowledge on the magnitude of the threats the Egyptian vultures face. The three main threats are indirect poisoning, electrocution and illegal killing. In Niger, poaching is the predominant threat as vultures are used for traditional medicine. It was also noted that Nigeria had a significant impact on poaching activities because of the high demand for Egyptian vulture parts.

Egyptian Vulture NEW LIFE’s data collection phase is about to end and the results will be used to create adaptive conservation strategies for each location. In Niger the team will focus on educating local communities about the consequences of killing vultures for traditional medicine.

Sketch: Graham Kearney

Written by Cloé Pourchier

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