Dozens of species of African birds of prey are in steep decline, with many now considered at risk of extinction, according to an analysis of data from across the continent.
Farming and pesticide use, poisoning by poachers and the proliferation of infrastructure like power lines that can be deadly to birds have reduced numbers of nearly all 42 species surveyed.
These include secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius), which declined by 85 per cent over three generations; martial eagles (Polemaetus bellicosus), which fell by 90 per cent on the same measure, and bateleurs (Terathopius ecaudatus), down by 87 per cent.
Some birds thought not to be vulnerable to extinction now are, the study found. For instance, African hawk-eagles (Aquila spilogaster), currently listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being of “least concern”, were estimated to have declined by 91 per cent.
There are calls to move the listing of such species higher up conservation rankings to reflect the changes. “We’re definitely hoping this paper will add pressure to uplist the rest [of the surveyed species now facing threats], sooner rather than later,” says study author Darcy Ogada from The Peregrine Fund, a US-based organisation.
Data was gathered from more than 53,000 sightings of the 42 species on nearly 100,000 kilometres of surveyed roads in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Cameroon, Botswana and Kenya between 1969 and 2020.
Additional data came from the most recent Southern African Bird Atlas Project, a citizen science-led survey.
The researchers found that declines among the 42 species were more than twice as bad in unprotected areas than in protected ones, showing that well-managed national parks and reserves are critical to aiding the birds’ long-term survival.
More work to understand the fate of such birds is needed. “We should urgently increase studies that estimate raptor population trends based on modelling the loss of threatened habitats such as forests, wetlands and grasslands, or the loss or mismanagement of protected areas,” says Ogada.
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