Vulture Conservation in Luambe National Park
Vultures fulfil an extremely important function in African ecosystems. Yet more than 69% of all vulture species are threatened, with a large proportion facing extinction. Many factors are responsible for the decline, but poisoning and traditional healing are among the most serious, accounting for 90% of all reported deaths (1). Due to the very low reproduction rate – most vultures lay only one egg per year – every poisoning or killing of a vulture has a massive impact on the population.
Luambe National Park in eastern Zambia has also had to deal with poisoned water holes or animal carcasses time and again in recent years. One of the main reasons for poisonings are poachers who want to prevent poached animals from being spotted by the authorities through vultures circling in the sky. In 2020, for example, one of the most devastating incidents in the whole of southern Africa occurred, in which over 800 vultures died. This included three endangered species (white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus ), woolly vulture ( Trigonoceps occipitalis ), capped vultures ( Necrosyrtes monachus )) and one endangered species (Eared vultures ( Torgos tracheliotos))). This makes it all the more important to protect all four vulture species present.
In cooperation with the South African animal protection organisation “Endangered Wildlife Trust”, the Zambian bird protection organisation “BirdWatch Zambia”, and the locally based conservation project “Luambe Conservation Project”, a project for the sustainable protection of vultures in Luambe National Park has now been launched.
With the help of GPS and GSM transmitters, the movement patterns, and thus also the feeding and breeding areas, of vultures can be monitored. These transmitters are specially adapted to the weight of the respective vulture species and can continuously record for up to five years. On this basis, feeding and especially breeding areas can be designated as protected areas in the next phase. Furthermore, poached animals such as elephants or poisoned water holes can be located and surveyed through the vultures’ movement patterns.
Of course, most animals move over much longer distances than just Luambe National Park or even the Luangwa Valley. After just one month, satellite data from a white-backed vulture showed that it moved over almost 1000 kilometres through Zambia as well as parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The data from this single animal alone proves that national and international cooperation is of great importance.
So far, nine individuals of two endangered species, White-backed Vulture and Hooded Vulture, have been tagged with satellite transmitters. A new, more in-depth tagging is planned for summer 2022. In the future, this project will take place continuously every year.
Ogada, Darcy, et al. “Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction.” Conservation Letters 9.2 (2016): 89-97.