Several vulture populations in Africa have declined by up to 95% over the last few decades. The critical nature of this rapid decrease was highlighted when parties to the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) adopted the Multi-species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (Vulture MsAP). Unlike the Asian Vulture Crisis, where the veterinary drug diclofenac was responsible for the collapse, there appear to be multiple drivers of the African Vulture Crisis, with the importance of each varying between species and regions.

Vultures provide important ecosystem services, and their rapid declines will have a dramatic effect on people and wildlife in Africa. The FitzPatrick Institute is committed to help conserve vultures by engaging in collaborative research projects throughout the continent.

Working with Raptors Botswana, we are involved in a research programme on Botswana’s significant populations of vultures. All five species in the country are globally Endangered or Critically Endangered. Central to this research is an attempt to quantify changes in vulture populations in Botswana over the last 30 years by repeating road transects undertaken in the early 1990s, as well as to repeat aerial surveys of key colonies. 

We are also a key partner in the conservation of the Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus in southern Africa. We have a long-standing collaboration with the team from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, where several students have worked on this important conservation project. 

Building on our successful predictive space use model for the Bearded Vulture, we have now also completed a space use model for the Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres across its entire global range. This was a large collaborative project using data from almost every organisation that has put GPS tags on this species. These predictive maps are now being used by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to help guide wind farm placements to protect this important and threatened species.

Activities in 2022


Activities in 2021

  • We completed our space use model for Cape Vultures to guide wind farm placement. This project involved almost all organisations that have tracked Cape Vultures sharing their data to help build this model. The model was developed by Francisco Cervantes under the guidance of Arjun Amar and Meg Murgatroyd.
  • Vultures Namibia fitted five more juvenile Lappet-faced Vultures Torgos tracheliotos with GPS tracking units in the Namib Naukluft National Park to study early-life movements and survival in this harsh landscape.
  • Fitz Honorary Research Associate Andrea Santangeli, in collaboration with Vultures Namibia and colleagues at Imperial College London, developed an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to identify camera trap images that include a vulture with a wing tag. The paper was published in Ibis in 2022.
  • Fitz Honorary Research Associate Andrea Santangeli, in collaboration with Vultures Namibia and colleagues at Imperial College London, developed an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to identify camera trap images that include a vulture with a wing tag. The paper was published in Ibis in 2022.
  • n collaboration with researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Andrea Santangeli started an analysis of 20 GPS tracked Lappet-faced vultures from Botswana, with the aim of understanding and mapping the exposure of these birds to intentional and unintentional poisoning risk across Southern Africa. This work is a collaboration with Raptors Botswana, Arjun Amar and Robert Thomson.
  • Botswanan MSc student Rochelle Mphetlhe spent 2022 in Cape Town analysing her repeated road transect data, combining her data for the south of Botswana with similar data for the Northern region undertaken by a previous Fitz PhD student, Dr Beckie Garbett. 
  • MSc CB student Charles Mpofu explored the diet of GPS tracked vultures across Botswana by ground truthing over 100 potential feeding sites based on the GPS 'signatures’. Charles was supervised by Arjun Amar, Gareth Tate (EWT) and Glyn Maude (Raptors Botswana).


  • The predictive space use model for Cape Vultures was accepted by the American Ecological Society’s journal Ecological Applications for publication in early 2023.
  • The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) incorporated our space use model into their Cape Vulture Protocol for use in EIA’s for onshore wind farms. This is currently being gazetted.
  • Rochelle Mphetlhe submitted her MSc thesis in 2022. The results from her work will now be written up for publication.
  • Charles Mpofu’s MSc Conservation Biology research thesis on vulture diet was passed by his examiners, and he will graduate in March 2023.
  • Andrea Santangeli and colleagues published two papers in Biological Conservation, one being a review on the knowledge gaps on New World vultures, and the other a letter on the need to address the emerging threat of feral dogs to biodiversity and vulture conservation. 
  • Andrea Santangeli and colleagues published a review study in Ecosystem Services providing a first global quantification of the evidence for the ecosystem services and disservices provided by the world’s vultures.
  • A paper was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences where Spanish researchers, including Andrea Santangeli, highlight the risk of restricting conservation efforts to priority conservation areas for vultures when aiming to mitigate renewable energy impacts.
  • Andrea Santangeli and former Fitz PhD student Christiaan Brink published a study in Ambio quantifying and mapping the risk of poisoning for vultures in Southern Kenya.

Impact of the project
Our research aims to understand important ecological issues affecting vultures, quantify population trends of multiple species, and identify key drivers of their population declines. Using our research on vulture restaurants, poison use, blood lead levels and hunting, and more recently with our research on reintroductions, we hope to deliver solutions to help reverse the declines in these species in Africa. The outcomes of these projects will help us understand why, what, where and how vulture threats occur, with implications for targeting cost-effective conservation actions.

Key co-supporters
DSI-NRF CoE grant; NRF Innovation Scholarship; ABAX Foundation; BioTherm Energy; JW Jagger Grant; Denver Zoo; Raptors Botswana; Rufford Grant; Wilderness Wildlife Trust; Colombus Zoo; Leslie Brown Memorial Grant; Peregrine Fund; IDEA Wild; Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife; Endangered Wildlife Trust; N3TC through Wildlands; Vultures Namibia; VulPro; HawkWatch International; University of Marburg; Academy of Finland; WildBird Trust.

Research team 2022
A/Prof. Arjun Amar (FIAO, UCT)
A/Prof. Robert Thomson (FIAO, UCT)
Dr Andrea Santangeli (U. Helsinki, FIAO, UCT)
Dr Francisco Cervantes (FIAO, UCT)
Dr Megan Murgatroyd (HawkWatch International)
Dr Sonja Krüger (EKZN Wildlife)
Dr Glyn Maude (Raptors Botswana)
Dr Richard Reading (Raptors Botswana)
Dr Moses Selebatso (Raptors Botswana)
Dr Gareth Tate (Endangered Wildlife Trust)
Dr Andrew Tucker (CSVet, Pretoria) 
Dr Beckie Garbett (BirdLife International)
Mr Kai Collins (WildBird Trust)

Students: Rochelle Mphetlhe (MSc, UCT), Charles Mpofu (CB MSc, UCT).