Kalahari vulture declines, through the eyes of meerkats
Vulture populations are experiencing rapid declines across the globe. While the declines have been most precipitous in Asia, recent reports suggest African populations are likewise imminently threatened. As the factors underlying these general population trends are multifaceted and will vary in their relative intensity spatially, it is imperative that monitoring data across different vulture populations is assimilated if targeted conservation action is to prove most effective. In this study, we highlight a medium-term decline in the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus population inhabiting the southern Kalahari, South Africa, using a long-term behavioural data set collected from a habituated population of meerkats Suricata suricatta. Meerkats emit an alarm call on sighting airborne vultures, which elicits a group-level response, such that the rates at which this behaviour is recorded in meerkats provides a high-resolution proxy for local vulture abundance. Although unconventional, this sampling method uncovered a steady decline over 17 years in White-backed Vulture numbers that mirrors the temporal decline recently documented in other southern African populations.
Keywords: Gyps africanus, population decline, vulture conservation