Tropical raptor species including the martial eagle, the bateleur and the dark chanting goshawk have vanished from swathes of the African continent over the past 40 years, new analysis shows, as many wild areas were converted to farmland. Several African birds of prey are on track to become locally extinct in many countries this century.
Published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, the new research used road surveys to find that nearly 90% of the 42 raptor species studied had experienced declines, with more than two-thirds showing evidence of being globally threatened.
Dr Phil Shaw, the study’s author at the University of St Andrews, said the disappearance of apex raptor species could have unintended consequences for humans, citing the example of the decline in Indian vultures that led to a rise in rabies cases in humans in the early 1990s.
“In the case of the vultures, it’s fairly clear cut that they provide an ecosystem service by removing carcasses. We’ve seen what happened in India when they had a similar population crash for different reasons. It led to an increase in the number of feral dogs, particularly in built-up areas … That led to a huge increase among the human population of rabies, passed on by bites from the dogs,” he said.
The study found that the African birds of prey, many of which are big enough to hunt jackals and antelopes as well as snakes, rodents and smaller birds, were becoming increasingly dependent on protected areas such as national parks and reserves.