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Astonishing research shows more than half of the world’s species of birds of prey have declining global populations

6 September 2018

The year 2018 has been declared the Year of the Bird to raise awareness about the conservation of birds in general, but a new study, led by biologists at The Peregrine Fund in collaboration with nine scientific organizations, have many wondering if there should also be a Year of the Raptor – and soon.

The study, “State of the world’s raptors: distributions, threats, and conservation recommendations” was recently released in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers looked at the status of all 557 raptor species, as defined by BirdLife International’s assessments of these species for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, and discovered something staggering - 18% of raptors are threatened with extinction and 52% of raptors have declining global populations.

In recent history, human activities have accelerated the rate of biodiversity loss around the world. This loss could have unexpected, negative impacts on human well-being. Dr. Chris McClure, Director of Global Conservation Science at The Peregrine Fund states, “Raptors provide critical ecosystem services, but there has never been a systematic, global synthesis of their conservation status or threats. We needed to change that so we can identify and prioritize our conservation efforts.”

One example of a loss of raptors that provided critical ecosystem services and had unexpected impacts on human health and welfare occurred on the Indian subcontinent during the 1990s when the populations of three species of vultures crashed by 97-99%. A newly introduced veterinary drug, called diclofenac, was the culprit. When vultures consumed dead cows that had been treated with diclofenac, the residual amounts of the drug in the cow’s tissue caused kidney failure and the birds’ death. The loss of vultures led to the rise of feral dogs and human rabies infections and deaths. In total, nearly losing three species of vultures resulted in more than $34 billion in medical expenses throughout the region.

Dr. Sarah Schulwitz, Director of the American Kestrel Partnership at The Peregrine Fund points out that, “By being at the top of the food chain and slower to reproduce than many other birds, raptors are more sensitive to threats caused by humans and are more likely to go extinct.” These threats can include habitat alteration or destruction, intentional killing, intentional and unintentional poisoning, electrocution, and climate change as well as many others.

Researchers discovered that raptors are more threatened than birds as a whole. The study revealed that Indonesia has the highest richness of raptor species and the largest numbers of declining species, birds of prey that rely on forest habitat are more likely to be threatened and declining, and agriculture, logging, and poisoning are particularly common threats.

Across the globe, conservation efforts have resulted in legislative action to create special protection for specific species, protected areas for habitat that is critical for survival of birds of prey, industry best practices to prevent raptor mortality, and even the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has developed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Birds of Prey in Africa and Eurasia. This “Raptors MOU” is an international agreement to conserve migratory raptors throughout Africa and Eurasia such as critically endangered vultures.

“Improving the status of raptor species requires a range of policy responses and conservation actions. These include identifying and conserving the key sites —Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas—upon which particular species depend, addressing landscape-scale deforestation, and tackling the illegal killing and persecution of raptors, among others” says Dr. Stuart Butchart Chief Scientist at BirdLife International and one of the paper’s coauthors. “This study provides new analysis to focus these efforts, and to underpin advocacy to safeguard some of the most iconic and spectacular birds in the world” states Butchart.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Elsevier's Newsroom at newsroom@elsevier.com or +31 20 485 2719.

This article is “State of the world’s raptors: distributions, threats, and conservation recommendations,” by Christopher J.W.McClure, James R.S. Westrip, Jeff A.Johnson, Sarah E.Schulwitz, Munir Z.Virani, Robert Davies, Andrew Symes, Hannah Wheatley, Russell Thorstrom, Arjun Amar, RalphBuij, Victoria R.Jones, Nick P. Williams, Evan R.Buechley, Stuart H.M.Butchart (DOI: 0.1016/j.biocon.2018.08.012). It appears in Biological Conservation, (2018), published by Elsevier.

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The Peregrine Fund was founded in 1970 to restore the then critically endangered Peregrine Falcon, which was subsequently removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1999. That success encouraged the organization to expand its focus and apply its experience and understanding to raptor conservation efforts on behalf of 140 species in 66 countries worldwide, including the Bald Eagle, California Condor, and Aplomado Falcon in the United States. The organization is non-political, solution-oriented, and hands-on, with a mission to conserve birds of prey worldwide. We conserve raptors by addressing critical situations facing species on the brink, protecting areas of high conservation value, and addressing landscape-level threats impacting multiple species. Because we know that conservation requires humans working together with one vision we work hard to enrich and engage communities in the places where we work. We know it is critical to inspire people to value raptors and take action, serve as a catalyst for change, and invest in tomorrow’s conservation leaders.

Biological Conservation is a leading international journal in the discipline of conservation science. The journal publishes articles spanning a diverse range of fields that contribute to the biological, sociological, ethical and economic dimensions of conservation. The primary aim of Biological Conservation is the publication of high-quality papers that advance the science and practice of conservation, or which demonstrate the application of conservation principles and policy.

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For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner

Director of Global Engagement
Main Phone: 208-362-3716
Direct Phone: 208-362-8277

The Peregrine Fund