Tracking birds of prey

Tracking birds of prey

Through the Field Conservation Grant program, Taronga provided financial support for the study of Vultures in Tanzania. The goals of the study were to determine movement ecology, population status, and threats facing these birds. To achieve this goal, 10 solar-powered satellite transmitters were attached to adult individuals; nine of which were White-backed Vultures, and, by chance, one was a White-headed Vulture. Being able to collect data on the latter is exciting, because not much firsthand evidence exists for this species.

Within their final report to Taronga, Dr. Corinne Kendall and Dr. Claire Bracebridge have outlined several significant findings:

1) Threats within the area of study (southern Tanzania) are low compared to other areas in Africa, providing a relative stronghold for Vulture species in this zone. No deaths were recorded of tagged individuals, and no cases of poisoning were reported;

2) Movement patterns demonstrated it is most likely a single White-backed Vulture population within the area studied; and

3) The studied population appears to have a much smaller range size than expected (compared to research conducted in South Africa and Kenya).

Tracking these individuals has also provided much unexpected data on other species, such as poached megafauna. In two instances, February and October 2017, the satellite data identified carcasses of hippos. Working with Tanzanian National Parks, these animals were able to be removed to reduce disease risk, notably anthrax. Tracking these vultures also led to the discovery of diseased giraffe carcasses, which are of concern because a recent skin-disease outbreak is believed to increase their risk of being predated upon by lions.

The original project aimed to also collect data on Hooded Vultures, but unfortunately the noose traps were unable to capture smaller species.

The study goals were achieved, providing significantly greater understanding of the status and threats facing Vultures. This information was used in conjunction with other bodies to reduce these threats. The most unexpected finding is the use of Vulture tracking as a means of disease surveillance. This will lead to further studies into disease dynamics.

**Report summary by Brendan Host**