Vultures in the Gyps genus are declining globally. Multiple threats related to human activity have caused widespread declines of vulture populations in Africa, especially outside protected areas. Addressing such threats requires the estimation of foraging ranges yet such estimates are lacking, even for widespread (but declining) species such as the African white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus). We tracked six immature African white-backed vultures in South Africa using GPS-GSM units to study their movement patterns, their use of protected areas and the time they spent in the vicinity of supplementary feeding sites. All individuals foraged widely; their combined foraging ranges extended into six countries in southern Africa (mean (± SE) minimum convex polygon area =269,103±197,187 km(2)) and three of the vultures travelled more than 900 km from the capture site. All six vultures spent the majority of their tracking periods outside protected areas. South African protected areas were very rarely visited whereas protected areas in northern Botswana and Zimbabwe were used more frequently. Two of the vultures visited supplementary feeding sites regularly, with consequent reduced ranging behaviour, suggesting that individuals could alter their foraging behaviour in response to such sites. We show that immature African white-backed vultures are capable of travelling throughout southern Africa, yet use protected areas to only a limited extent, making them susceptible to the full range of threats in the region. The standard approach of designating protected areas to conserve species is unlikely to ensure the protection of such wide-ranging species against threats in the wider landscape.
Cape vulture Gyps coprotheres populations have declined across their range due to multiple anthropogenic threats. Their susceptibility to fatal collisions with the expanding power line network and the prevalence of carcasses contaminated with illegal poisons and other threats outside protected areas are thought to be the primary drivers of declines in southern Africa. We used GPS-GSM units to track the movements and delineate the home ranges of five adult (mean ±SD minimum convex polygon area = 121,655±90,845 km(2)) and four immature (mean ±SD minimum convex polygon area = 492,300±259,427 km(2)) Cape vultures to investigate the influence of power lines and their use of protected areas. The vultures travelled more than 1,000 km from the capture site and collectively entered five different countries in southern Africa. Their movement patterns and core foraging ranges were closely associated with the spatial distribution of transmission power lines and we present evidence that the construction of power lines has allowed the species to extend its range to areas previously devoid of suitable perches. The distribution of locations of known Cape vulture mortalities caused by interactions with power lines corresponded to the core ranges of the tracked vultures. Although some of the vultures regularly roosted at breeding colonies located inside protected areas the majority of foraging activity took place on unprotected farmland. Their ability to travel vast distances very quickly and the high proportion of time they spend in the vicinity of power lines and outside protected areas make Cape vultures especially vulnerable to negative interactions with the expanding power line network and the full range of threats across the region. Co-ordinated cross-border conservation strategies beyond the protected area network will therefore be necessary to ensure the future survival of threatened vultures in Africa.
Three Gyps vulture species are on the brink of extinction in South Asia owing to the veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac. Carcasses of domesticated ungulates are the main food source for Asias vultures and birds die from kidney failure after consuming diclofenac-contaminated tissues. Here, we report on the safety testing of the NSAID ketoprofen, which was not reported to cause mortality in clinical treatment of scavenging birds and is rapidly eliminated from livestock tissues. Safety testing was undertaken using captive non-releasable Cape griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres) and wild-caught African white-backed vultures (G. africanus), both previously identified as susceptible to diclofenac and suitable surrogates. Ketoprofen doses ranged from 0.5 to 5 mg kg(-1) vulture body weight, based upon recommended veterinary guidelines and maximum levels of exposure for wild vultures (estimated as 1.54 mg kg(-1)). Doses were administered by oral gavage or through feeding tissues from cattle dosed with ketoprofen at 6 mg kg(-1) cattle body weight, before slaughter. Mortalities occurred at dose levels of 1.5 and 5 mg kg(-1) vulture body weight (within the range recommended for clinical treatment) with the same clinical signs as observed for diclofenac. Surveys of livestock carcasses in India indicate that toxic levels of residual ketoprofen are already present in vulture food supplies. Consequently, we strongly recommend that ketoprofen is not used for veterinary treatment of livestock in Asia and in other regions of the world where vultures access livestock carcasses. The only alternative to diclofenac that should be promoted as safe for vultures is the NSAID meloxicam.
The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) is involved in the ex situ conservation of Gyps coprotheres, the Cape Griffon vulture (CGV) and houses 24 birds in a 100-yr-old aviary. Following the death of one vulture with high liver lead concentrations, an investigation was launched to ascertain the source(s) and consequences of lead toxicity in this breeding colony. Whole blood from 24 CGV, paint from the enclosure, water, and soil sampled at various locations within the enclosure were evaluated for their lead concentration, and data were gathered from NZGs medical records. The lead concentration in the paint, water, and enclosure soil was 5,100 microg/g, 0.5 microg/dl, and 72.48 +/- 21.83 microg/g, respectively. The whole-blood lead concentrations were 56.58 +/- 11 microg/dl. The breeding history of six pairs within the contaminated enclosure since 2002 showed 45 eggs laid, of which 44% were infertile and 24% successfully reared. The medical records revealed evidence of osteodystrophy despite adequate nutrition. As intervention measures, six birds were treated with Ca2+EDTA and the topsoil inside the enclosure was replaced. As a result, the lead concentration in the enclosure soil dropped to 14.74 +/- 14.39 microg/g, and the whole-blood lead concentrations declined to 42.75 +/- 11.64 microg/dl. It was concluded that lead concentrations in whole blood in excess of 100 microg/dl leads to clinical signs of lead toxicity in the CGV. Lower levels appear to interfere mainly with reproductive potential.
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