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‘Rare good news’

7 Dec 2020

Oman is turning into a haven for the endangered Egyptian vulture. A new research shows the sultanate hosts a globally important resident population and is a stronghold for the species. 

In Oman, Egyptian vultures breed primarily in the Hajar Mountains in the north and the national population had been estimated at 100 pairs in 2010. 

However, a research titled A Globally-Important Stronghold in Oman for a Resident Population of the Endangered Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus conducted recently with satellite tracking suggests that the birds are in bigger numbers than previously estimated. 

‘We found 61 occupied territories, and identified 19 additional presumed territories for which occupancy was unconfirmed. The sum of those and the territories recently discovered on Masirah Island exceeds the published national estimate of 100 pairs,’ the study stated.

An initial conservative estimate suggests a breeding density of 0.26 pairs/km2 in the study area, indicating that Oman is home to around 225 pairs. ‘Although the nesting density in suitable habitat across Oman appears to be variable, the number of pairs of Egyptian vultures is certainly multiple times greater than estimated. This is encouraging news for this endangered species, and suggests that under certain conditions Egyptian vultures can thrive, even in places where anthropogenic development is rapidly increasing, as in Oman.’

Speaking on the significance of the findings, Michael McGrady, an ecologist at the International Avian Research in Krems, Austria, and co-author of the study with five others, said, “The Egyptian vulture, like almost all Old World vultures, is globally endangered and has suffered large population declines in recent decades and contraction of their global distribution. To find a place where they seem to be doing well is rare good news.”

McGrady has been working on vulture species in Oman since 2012 with the support of Environment Society of Oman.

The Egyptian vulture is classified as a globally endangered species the habitat of which has seen large range contractions. In the Middle East, the population is thought to be in steep decline but there are healthy and dense resident populations on the islands of Socotra in Yemen and Masirah in Oman. 

The increase in vulture territories, at least in some parts of Oman, runs counter to the general global trend, but is not entirely surprising given the favourable conditions in the sultanate today and in recent decades, the study added.

However, the study cautioned about the threats to the vulture as Oman rapidly develops. ‘Threats to Egyptian vultures and other large soaring birds (eg due to electrocution and poisoning) may be reduced or partially avoided by planning and regulation that includes installation of safe electricity infrastructure, ensuring that food consumed at dump sites is safe for scavenging birds, and raising public and government awareness.’

McGrady added that the negative impacts of development can be mitigated to some extent. “Egyptian vultures can benefit from increased food waste that accompanies development as long as the food is safe. Also, power infrastructure can be designed to be vulture-safe, and can cost about the same as vulture-dangerous infrastructure. It’s just a matter of design and planning.” 

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