African raptor population declines 88% in 40 years: Report

News Excerpt:

The latest study published in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution” indicates a widespread decline of about 88% in the raptor population across Africa over the past four decades.


  • Raptors are birds of prey. The word raptor has a Latin origin meaning “to grasp or seize”.
  • It is a carnivorous medium- to large-sized bird (such as a hawk, eagle, owl, or vulture) that has a hooked beak and large sharp talons and that feeds wholly or chiefly on meat taken by hunting.

Key Findings of the Study: 

  • 37 of the 42 species examined by them have seen a decline in their population. And 29 of them have seen a drop in population over three generation lengths (Criteria used by IUCN).

Generational Length:

  • It is the average age of parents of the current cohort (i.e. newborn individual in the population). 
  • It therefore reflects the turnover rate of breeding individuals in a population.
  • Two-thirds of the 42 examined species from 1969-1995 and 2000-2020 across Africa show strong evidence to be globally threatened.
  • Six species that are endemic/near endemic to Africa and have declined rapidly than the threshold rates include the Secretary bird; Lappet-faced vulture; Bateleur, Tawny eagle, Steppe eagle, and Martial eagle. 
  • Beaudouin’s snake-eagle is another species that is showing a steep decline (80-85%) over three generation lengths.

Reasons behind the declining population of Raptors: 

  • Loss of habitat: The report noted that annually, nearly five million hectares of forest and non-forest natural vegetation were lost in sub-Saharan Africa. The declines were more prominent in West Africa where the situation was worse than in sub-Saharan Africa. 
  • Anthropogenic Disturbances: Explosion of human population in the African continent leading to high expansion of land conversion and thus habitat degradation of raptors. 
  • Prey base Depletion: It is caused by various human activities and natural factors, such as overhunting, land‐use change, and competition. 
  • Other reasons include unintentional poisoning, shooting, electrocution, and collisions with human-built energy infrastructure.
  • Raptors that breed slowly also face difficulty recovering the rapidly lost population.

Why Protected Areas (PAs) are failing to protect raptors?

  • Regional-level corruption; poverty; lack of funding and mismanagement in the protected areas.
  • Many African PAs are also losing their ecological integrity, depriving threatened species of effective shelter.

Impact of declining raptor population: 

  • It can trigger cascading effects on its prey populations and disrupt the ecosystem functioning. 
  • Raptors provide crucial ecosystem services such as rapid removal of carcasses through consumption and decreasing the risks of the spread of zoonotic diseases to human populations.

Way Forward: 

These findings serve as a wake-up call for stakeholders, urging collaborative efforts to mitigate the identified threats, protect critical habitats, and ensure the survival of African raptor species for maintaining the ecological balance.

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