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White-backed Vulture
Gyps africanus

Status: Critically endangered

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: African White-backed Griffon, African White-backed Vulture, Pseudogyps africanus, White-backed Griffon.

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Gyps africanus
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Distribution: Afrotropical. Sub-Saharan Africa from MAURITANIA east to SUDAN and ETHIOPIA and south to northern and eastern SOUTH AFRICA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Based on molecular sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, Wink (1995) found that the genera Gyps and Necrosrytes form a sister clade to a group containing the genera Aegypius, Sarcogyps, Torgos, and Trigonoceps. This species was formerly placed in the separate genus, Pseudogyps, with its sister species, G. bengalensis, based on their possession of 12 tail feathers instead of 14 in other Gyps species and nesting in trees instead of on cliffs. However, based on their molecular analyses, Wink (1995), Johnson et al. (2006), and Arshad et al. (2009) recommended against this treatment because of the relatively small genetic distance between these two species and other Gyps species.

Movements: Partial migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas (Bildstein 2006). There are some movements in response to rainfall changes. Some individuals, mainly juveniles, may wander for long distances (including one to 980 km) (Mundy et al. 1992), or occur in some areas far from any known breeding colony. more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in a wide variety of habitats, but prefers open savanna and dry woodlands with large scattered trees (Acacia, Ficus, Adansonia digitata), which it uses for roosting and breeding (Mundy et al. 1992). It also occurs in areas of smaller trees, where nothing else is available, but its absence from some grassland areas may be due to the lack of trees (Mundy 1997). Generally absent from well-wooded areas lacking large game animals. Spends much time soaring overhead searching for carrion, but is probably mainly dependent upon other species to locate carcasses. Once a carcass is found, birds may wait in trees, or on the ground nearby for long periods of time. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Obligate scavenger, associating with large mammal species and feeding on large carcasses in groups. Individuals often spar with each other to maintain a favorable position on the carcass. A hundred of these birds can strip a 50-kg carcass in three minutes (Tarboton 1990). Where they occur together, this species is subordinate to the larger Cape and Lappet-faced Vultures. This species usually occurs in habitats with a less extreme climate than Rüppell's Vultures, so their food supply is more resident, and they are less subject to seasonal migrations of game herds.

Breeding: This species often nests colonially, but some nests are widely dispersed. The large platform structure is placed in the top of large trees, or, in some areas, on electricity pylons. The youngest known age of successful breeding is four years. Clutch size is usually one, occasionally two, unmarked white eggs. The incubation period is 56-58 days. The sexes share parental duties. Breeding success ranges from 43-87%, and as many as 20% of the population does not breed in any given year (Mundy et al. 1992). more....

Conservation: This has been the most common vulture African vulture species, occurring throughout sub-Saharan regions except in dense forest and very arid habitats. Recently, Rondeau and Thiollay (2004) and Thiollay (2006) reported alarming declines in numbers in West Africa in unprotected areas, and similar drastic declines have been documented in East Africa by Virani et al. (2011). These declines were attributed to land use changes and poisoning. Reflecting recent developments, the global status of the White-backed Vulture was changed in 2012 from Near Threatened to Endangered and then further up-listed in 2015 to "Critically Endangered" by BirdLife International. This reflects the seriousness of this crashing population and the urgency to reverse this alarming trend. more....

Population Estimates: The total global population was estimated at about 270,000 individuals, including 100,000 breeding pairs by Mundy et al. (1992), but it may be more than an order of magnitude lower by now. more....

Important References: 
Anderson, M.D. 2000. African Whitebacked Vulture Gyps africanus. Pp. 75-77
  in K.N. Barnes (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South
  Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.S. 1994. African White-backed Vulture. P. 126 in del Hoyo, J., A.
  Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2 New
  World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Mundy, P.J. 1982. The comparative biology of southern African vultures.
  Vulture Study Group, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mundy, P.J. 1997. Whitebacked Vulture. Pp. 160-161 in J.A. Harrison et al.
  (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines. BirdLife
  South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mundy, P.J., J.A. Ledger, and R. Friedman. 1992. The vultures of Africa.
  Academic Press, London.
Piper, S.E. 2005. White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus. Pp. 488-489 in
  P.A.R. Hockey, W.R.J. Dean, and P.G. Ryan (eds.), Roberts Birds of Southern
  Africa. 7th ed. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town,
  South Africa.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.

Current Research: Sightings of wing-tagged White-backed Vultures in southern Africa should be reported André Botha at andreb@ewt.org or 082-962-5725.

Sites of Interest:
White-backed Vulture photos.

Hancock, Pete
Johnson, Jeff A.
Kendall, Corinne
Rondeau, Guy
Virani, Munir

Last modified: 2/5/2016

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 28 Nov. 2021

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