There is probably no bird that is more misunderstood than the vulture. Our perceptions of this bird have been shaped by many false stereotypes, not grounded in scientific fact and by the rather unglamorous image most scavengers have. The role that vultures play in ensuring healthy ecosystems is critical. Vultures clean our ecosystems by eating carrion - essential to preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases (disease spread between animals and people).
Since the 20th century, their numbers have plummeted due to habitat encroachment, hunting, poisoning, illegal wildlife trade and a decline in wild ungulate populations that has reduced food sources for them. The main cause of their steep decline in numbers is poisoning - targeted at large carnivores as part of widespread human wildlife conflict issues.
The Peregrine Fund has been working with ranches and conservancies in Laikipia as well as the Kenya Wildlife Service in order to research population figures and come up with better ways to help conserve them. Although there are between 3,000 - 4,000 individuals in Kenya, there are likely less than 50 individuals that habitually roost or breed in Laikipia - and the numbers regularly seen (in Laikipia) have declined by about 56% over 10 years.
In January 2017, The Peregrine Fund tagged a young Ruppell's Vulture on Ol Pejeta. In the ensuing months, the vulture embarked on a long continental flight, climaxing in the area around Zakouma National Park in Chad before heading back to Kenya. It is the farthest a vulture from Kenya has ever been shown to go. A second vulture was tagged on Ol Pejeta in December 2017.
Advocacy work is also a key component of the Fund’s efforts. They have launched a “Stop Poisonings Now” campaign aimed at reducing vulture poisoning in northern Kenya. So far over 200 rangers, police officers and community group members have participated in these training sessions. Each group is supplied with a ‘Poisoning Kit’ containing the equipment needed to safely respond to future incidents.
Watch the video below about the Peregrine Fund’s work to reduce vulture poisonings aimed at saving these scavengers from the brink of extinction.