New Report Shows Widespread Population Declines of African Raptors

Bonn, Germany, 4 January 2024 – A new report published today in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution has found that Africa’s birds of prey may be facing an extinction crisis. According to the report by an international team of researchers, African savanna raptors such as the Rüppell's Vulture, the Steppe Eagle, and the iconic Secretarybird are showing evidence of widespread and significant population declines and a growing dependence on protected areas across the African continent.

Africa is known to be of exceptional importance for global raptor conservation as it supports high numbers of threatened species. However, according to the report, rapid expansion of the continent’s human population has led to widespread land conversion and habitat degradation which has had a dramatic effect on many raptor populations.

“This study underscores the need to significantly step up national and international actions to protect raptors and their habitats in Africa. Otherwise, many raptors such as eagles and vultures could go extinct over much of the African continent, which would have devasting effects on nature and people alike,” said Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

Cumulative human impacts on all birds of prey are being felt across the African continent, but are especially acute in some regions, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa which has lost almost 5 million ha of forest and non-forest natural vegetation per year between 1975 – 2000.

The study, co-led by Dr. Phil Shaw of the University of St. Andrews and Dr Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund is the first multi-regional trend analysis of 42 African raptors species conducted over an extended period. The study is based on trend estimates made across Africa over a ca. 20 – 40 year period and shows declines among nearly 90 per cent of the species examined. It also suggests that more than two-thirds of these species may be exceeding IUCN criteria for species at risk of extinction.

Steppe Eagle. Photo by Waheed Al Fazari

Habitat loss – particularly due to the conversion of natural habitats to farmland and poisoning are considered to be the main threats to birds of prey populations across the African-Eurasian region. According to the authors, many of the studied African raptors are being particularly hit hard by habitat conversion, prey-base depletion, and persecution (from shooting, trapping, and poisoning), driven primarily by human population expansion. Other threats include unintentional poisoning, electrocution and/or collision with energy infrastructure, and the killing of birds of prey for food and belief-based uses.

As the study has highlighted, Protected Areas are crucial for the survival of the birds of prey. The Raptors MOU has recently approved an inventory of all known important sites for raptors in the African-Eurasian region establishing the largest network of sites to be conserved specifically for raptors which was an important step in laying the groundwork for targeted conservation action.

The alarming new population trends for African raptors were also echoed in the first conservation status assessment report of migratory raptors under the CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia (Raptors MOU), which was presented to countries at the Third Raptors MOU Signatories Meeting held in Dubai, UAE in July this year. The CMS Raptors MOU status report revealed that over 50 per cent of migratory birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia are threatened with extinction. 

Dr Umberto Gallo-Orsi, Head of the Coordinating Unit of the CMS Raptors MOU and co-author of the study, said: “The study is another wake-up call for all the countries that share populations of migratory birds of prey, within and outside Africa. Fortunately, we have the tools and internationally agreed action plans already in place to reverse these alarming negative trends in African raptor populations. Yet it is also clear that more coordinated efforts are needed to implement them.”

By becoming a Signatory of the CMS Raptors MOU, countries agree to collectively pursue conservation measures that will ensure that all populations of African-Eurasian migratory birds of prey (including owls) are maintained in, or returned to, a favorable conservation status.

In addition to the agreed Action Plan (Annex 3 of the Raptors MOU), several targeted species-specific action plans have also been developed or endorsed under the MOU. These include the Multi-species Action Plan to Conserver African Eurasian Vultures, the Saker Falcon Global Action Plan (SakerGAP), the International Single Species Action Plan for the Sooty Falcon and the Action Plan for West African Vultures.

Signatory States of the Raptors MOU and CMS Parties are also encouraged to develop national action plans to address these threats and restore the species populations. Examples of such plans include a Biodiversity Management Plan for vulture populations developed by South Africa and a National Raptor Conservation Strategy in Morocco, which is at an advanced stage of development.    

“The Signatory states of the Raptors MOU have identified almost 230 important raptor sites in Africa that need to be protected and conserved. Ensuring all these sites are well-connected and protected is vital to safeguarding the future of our raptors” said Gallo-Orsi. 

Protecting these sites will also contribute to international efforts to reach the 30 by 30 Global Biodiversity Targets agreed by world leaders through the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

The CMS Raptors MOU is one of several instruments operating under the Convention of Migratory Species and provides the institutional framework for governments and experts to address the many challenges that birds of prey are facing across the African-Eurasian Flyway, which spans a total of 131 counties. Other relevant CMS instruments include the African-Eurasian Migratory Landbird Action Plan (AEMLAP) and CMS Task Forces such as the Energy Task Force or the Task Force on Illegal Killing, Taking and Trade of Migratory Birds in the Mediterranean (MIKT).

The Coordinating Unit of the CMS Raptors MOU is hosted within the CMS Office - Abu Dhabi by the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi on behalf of the Government of the United Arab Emirates.

The upcoming 14th Conference of the Contracting Parties to CMS (CMS COP14) will review the implementation of the Vulture Multispecies Action Plan and discuss the need to improve its implementation, particularly in Africa. The Action Plan for the Sooty Falcon as well as the Action Plan for West African Vultures will also be presented to CMS Parties at CMS COP14 which is scheduled to take place 12-17 February 2024 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Secretarybird, Photo: Andre Botha

Further Information:


For further information on the work of the CMS Raptors MOU or this study, please contact Umberto Gallo-Orsi, Head of the Coordinating Unit for the Raptors MOU (Email: [email protected] Tel: +971 54 5070859  (mobile))


Last updated on 03 February 2024