Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Are there any Egyptian vultures left?

Thirty or forty years ago Egyptian vultures were common summer residents of both Jebel Nafusa in Tripolitania and Jebel Akhdar in Cyrenaica. Now I believe (but I hope I am wrong) that it is extinct in Jebel Akhdar and very rare or extinct in Jebel Nafusa. 

The bird is easily recognisable but I just haven't seen it in Libya in summer. As far as I know neither has anyone else in recent years.

Photograph of an Egyptian Vulture in Sudan by Ivailo Angelov

There is no doubt that a small number of central European breeding Egyptian vulture pass through Tripolitania in Libya via Malta. Indeed one such bird called "Brandy" has been tracked this month by Italian scientists. See the map below for its recent route.

Map from CERM Centro Rapaci Minacciati, Endangered raptors centre

A very plausible reason for the probable extinction of the bird in north east Libya (Cyrenaica) has been found. It is now believed many hundreds of Egyptian vultures have been electrocuted by power lines in Sudan over many years. 

A joint expedition between BSPB (Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds) and the Sudanese Wildlife Society (25.Sept-5.Oct .2010) found 17 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures on the Red Sea coast in North-Eastern Sudan around Port Sudan.

Their research followed earlier work by the German ornithologist Gerhard Nikolaus. In 2004, he found 5 birds under the same power lines as he had discovered 55 electrocuted Egyptian Vultures in 1982. Since the power lines were built in the 1950s it is assumed hundreds of Egyptian vultures have died there.

In the past the area around Port Sudan was the most significant known stop-over site of the species in Sudan during its autumn migration. It is quite probable that Libyan birds have been among them. Now there are very few birds from any country there.

lethal power lines in Sudan

The decline of the Egyptian vulture in Jebel Nafusa is more difficult to establish. It is hardly unlikely these birds would have wintered in Sudan. Sadly there is some evidence of farmers using poisons in Niger and this factor could have effected the Jebel Nafusa situation.. 

an sad sight- an electrocuted Egyptian vulture in Sudan. Photo courtesy of the BSPB 

I don't like publishing sad stories but occasionally I feel moved to do so. I look forward to the day that these birds fly over Cyrenaica again.


  1. Hi Rob

    really a sad story for the Eg vutures. I remember reporting the species two times in Cyrenica, in summer 1999 and 2002
    The first was during a field trip by Zoology students from Tripoli to Kouf National Park, where we saw the pair egyptian vulture at the Park admin area. Then I saw one bird in 2002 at Ain Ezzarga wetland north of the Kouf National Park.

    Your comments are alarming and I hope Jaber Yahia saw them recently in Cyrenica!

    Will invite him to write a comment about it.

    salam from Hull

  2. Abdulmaula,

    I've got good news for everyone. I was birding today with Gencer in the Derna area. He told me he saw two Egyptian vulture on the top (hill rather than coast) road from Wadi Al Kouf to Derna on July 22nd.

    I am glad I was wrong about their extinction in Cyrenaica. I'm certain their numbers are low though.

    The moral of this story is never write a bird off