BSPB supports work for conservation of the Egyptian vulture in Oman


A team from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) was invited to take part in research on the Egyptian Vulture on the island of Masirah, Sultanate of Oman. The expedition was jointly organized by the Environment Society of Oman ( and BSPB. The main goal of the expedition was to estimate the number of breeding pairs of Egyptian vultures on the island, find as many nests as possible, and collect initial information on factors that might limit the population.

 Field research undertaken between 23th February and 2nd March suggested an unexpectedly high density of breeding vultures on the island. In total, 34 pairs of Egyptian vultures were found, which suggests to us that 50 - 80 pairs may actually exist. This number is almost equal to the entire Balkan population of the species. At confirmed nesting sites, four had offspring, 16 were still incubating, and 13 had not yet laid eggs; the status of one pair was unclear. Because of the tropical climate the breeding period of the birds is longer than in Bulgaria. This and the fact that the population is resident explain the asynchrony of breeding.

 The island of Masirah is situated in the Indian Ocean, 15 km from the mainland. Its length is 65 km, and its maximum width is about 17 km. The human population is about 14000, and the traditional livelihood is fishing . Trade and tourism are also developing and some people have jobs in the service sector, at the air base and for the local authorities. The island is famous for its beautiful, relatively pristine, sandy beaches, which are globally important breeding grounds for loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta).

 No serious threats to the Egyptian vultures on Masirah were identified during the field research, and the increase in the human population on the island combined with the specific conditions there have contributed to an increase in the population of the Egyptian vulture in the last decades. Several months of research on Masirah during the 1940’s found 10 pairs on the island. At that time the island was inhabited by only several hundred people, living solely from fishing. A similar number of vultures was estimated in the 1970’s. While it may seem counterintuitive, historically large cities have supported the largest concentrations of nesting Egyptian vultures. For example, at the end of 19th century 1000 pairs bred in Istanbul, where they nested on the buildings and fed in the streets, and essentially filled the role of a city cleaning service. At that time, they outnumbered stray dogs and cats, which today occupy much of the scavenger niche. By the beginning of 20th century, in most European countries, birds of prey were viewed as pests. Hunting of them was encouraged everywhere, which along with the detrimental effects of chemical contaminants in the environment and the effects of electrocution contributed to the rapid disappearance of vultures in and around big cities. Illegal hunting, illegal or accidental poisoning and general effects of environmental contaminants, and electrocution are the main factors affecting the endangered populations of vultures (including the Egyptian vulture) all over the world.

 Currently, the vultures on Masirah occur in an environment that is generally beneficial to them, but it seems that this may change at some point in the future. Firstly, the local municipality supports an extensive dump site that is managed in a more “old-fashioned” way, where all dead animals and waste from households and fishing are dumped. This dump site is visited by large numbers of the vultures and gulls on a daily basis. Also, the carcasses of several large species of fish, caught by hundreds of fishing boats, are discarded at sea because of their low market value. These wash ashore on Masirah and provides another source of food for the Egyptian vultures. There are no predatory mammals on the island and few stray dogs and cats. Elsewhere in its global range the Egyptian vultures are affected by poisoning from baits set illegally for predators. Because there are no predators on the island, there is also a consequent absence of poisoning, and thus no negative effect on the vultures. Additionally, there is almost no agriculture on the island and so environmental contaminants in the form of agricultural chemicals is low.

 We hope that this research effort will help the local authorities and people recognize the Egyptian vulture as one of the flagship species for the island, and their conservation will be promoted, perhaps as part of developing ecotourism. A second expedition is planned during May 2012 to search for new pairs and determine the breeding success of the pairs we already know about.

 The expedition is part of a pilot project for research and conservation of the Egyptian vulture in the Sultanate of Oman, implemented by the Environmental Society of Oman and financed by The Hima Fund ( From BSPB’s point of view, taken together with previous work by BSPB in Turkey, Ethiopia and Sudan, the work on Masirah aims to support Egyptian vulture conservation in all countries in its global range. The project’s development was supported within the framework of the on-going Life+ Project “The return of the Neophron” (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000152), financed from European Union and co-financed by A.G.Leventis foundation.

We wish to express our gratitude to the Environmental Society of Oman for their hospitality and great enthusiasm, including Maïa Sarrouf – coordinator of the project and the local field assistants on Masirah island – Ghasi al Farsi, Juma al Araimi and Juma al Humaidi.


Useful information
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The breeding performance of the Egyptian Vulture population in Bulgaria is among the highest in Europe

The breeding performance of the Egyptian Vulture population in Bulgaria is among the highest in Europe