We interview our Chief Scientist, Stuart Butchart, about a newly published paper: State of the World’s Raptors. What threats face this iconic group of birds, and what can we do to help?
Why is it important to focus on the status of raptors in particular?
From ghostly owls to majestic birds of prey, raptors are among the most iconic birds, but they are also highly threatened, with many of the larger species requiring large tracts of intact forest, and others persecuted because of their supposed impacts on livestock or game. We teamed up with researchers at the Peregrine Fund to undertake the first assessment focused specifically on the status of this group.
How threatened are they?
We found that 18% of raptors are threatened with extinction and 52% of species have declining global populations: far higher proportions than for birds in general. In particular, raptor species that require forest are more likely to be threatened and declining than those that do not, and migratory raptors were significantly more threatened than resident species. The greatest concentrations of threatened species are found in South and South-East Asia.
What threats do raptors face that may be different to other bird groups?
Vultures in South Asia have suffered catastrophic population declines owing to the toxic effects of the veterinary drug diclofenac. In Africa, vultures and owls are killed for their body parts to be used for supposed medicinal benefits. Many other raptors are vulnerable to electrocution or collision with powerlines. But as with most bird species, unsustainable agriculture and logging are the primary threats.
What is the role of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas in raptor conservation?
Given that raptors comprise only 5% of the world’s bird species, a remarkable 32% of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) worldwide are key sites for raptor populations. Safeguarding and conserving these sites is critical for the conservation of raptors globally.
What are the main recommendations the report makes for protecting the world’s raptors?
As well as site protection, we need to strengthen and enforce laws preventing illegal killing and unsustainable hunting. Other priorities include education and awareness-raising, policy changes such as improved regulation on the use of poisons, and safety measures for dangerous powerlines. For migratory species, international cooperation is of particular importance, including through Species Action Plans such as those developed under the Convention of Migratory Species.