Vulture populations have declined catastrophically over the past three decades, especially in Asia and Africa, and are now the world’s most threatened group of birds. Of total vulture species, 73% percent are vulnerable to extinction and 77% have declining populations. They provide a critical ecological function and benefit to humans by actively reducing the incidence of diseases by quickly locating and consuming carrion and eliminating pathogens during digestion (regions with the worst rabies epidemics are also where vulture populations are in collapse). Ethiopia still has large vulture populations, providing a unique opportunity to research their ecological roles—and to conserve them before they go extinct.
HawkWatch International has collaborated with the University of Utah to investigate vultures’ ecological functions and role in regulating disease by studying the richest vulture community in the world—Ethiopia. The Vanishing Vultures research project will provide critical information and conservation plans to help manage this vital issue, protecting both human and vulture. The project will survey seven vulture species throughout Ethiopia to estimate populations and distributions, track movements to identify key foraging and breeding sites, locate movement corridors, and evaluate their dependence on human food sources. The question remains: Who will carrion when vultures are gone?