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Report finds widespread declines among raptors in Kenya

raptors in Kenya
Secretarybird. Photo D. Ogada

The bad news about bird populations around the globe continues today with a report from Kenya. A team of scientists from Kenya, the U.K., France, and the U.S. published a paper today, February 1, showing widespread declines of Kenya’s birds of prey over the past 40 years.

Kenya’s diurnal raptors were first surveyed in the 1970s by researchers who identified and counted the birds while they drove along roads, both inside and outside of protected areas. The roadside surveys were repeated multiple times during the 2000s for the new study. Of 22 species examined, 19 were seen less frequently during the recent period and the median rate of the decline was roughly 70%.

The largest declines were recorded in Common Kestrel (down 95%), Secretarybird and Long-crested Eagle (both down 94%), Lesser Kestrel (down 93%), Augur Buzzard (down 91%), and Hooded Vulture and Montagu’s Harrier (both down 88%).

Declines occurred among all vulture and large eagle species, and were especially pronounced among once-common small and medium-sized raptors like Augur Buzzard and Black-winged Kite. No species had increased significantly. Based on projected declines over three generation lengths, 45% of the species examined would qualify as nationally Endangered or Critically Endangered. The study’s findings further demonstrated the importance of protected areas for Kenya’s remaining populations as raptors declined less severely inside parks and reserves compared to unprotected lands.

Long-crested Eagle. Photo by D. Ogada

“Most birds of prey are long-lived and slow breeding, and therefore they can’t cope with the myriad of threats they face today if urgent action to protect them is not initiated,” said Peter Njoroge, head of the Ornithology Section at National Museums of Kenya, an organization involved in the study. “We are on the brink of losing many of them along with the environmental benefits they confer on humanity.”

Phil Shaw of the University of St Andrews, a co-lead author of the study, said: “Our findings highlight the stark contrast between raptor trends in protected areas and in unprotected land. Outside of Kenya’s protected area network there is evidence that populations of many raptors have almost collapsed, and this cuts across species size, diet, or ecological requirements. While most species have fared better within protected areas, several large raptor species have shown worrying declines even here, suggesting a need to bolster site protection and connectivity.”

“Many of Kenya’s raptors are at a breaking point,” adds Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund and a co-lead author of the study. “After decades of habitat loss, more acute threats such as electrocution and persecution are rapidly taking a toll on already depleted populations. Whether species such as Augur Buzzard, Bearded Vulture, Long-crested Eagle, and Egyptian Vulture will continue to persist in the coming years and decades is in doubt, waiting another five to ten years for some of these species could be too late.”

Despite the current situation, the authors suggest that Kenya’s raptor declines could be reversed through enhanced management of protected areas, mitigation of specific threats, and the implementation of species recovery plans.

Thanks to The Peregrine Fund for providing this news.

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