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Cape Vulture
Gyps coprotheres

Status: Endangered

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Cape Griffon, Kolbe's Vulture.

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Gyps coprotheres
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Distribution: Afrotropical. Two core populations, one in the North West Province of SOUTH AFRICA and adjacent BOTSWANA, and the other in the LESOTHO highlands, northern Eastern Cape Province, and western Kwa-Zulu Natal Province; occurs locally in NAMIBIA, ZIMBABWE, and southern MOZAMBIQUE, regularly visits SWAZILAND, and occasionally wanders north of the Zambezi River in ZAMBIA. 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. Stresemann and Amadon (1979) and Amadon and Bull (1988) thought that the Cape Vulture formed a superspecies with the Eurasian Griffon Gyps fulvus and Rüppell's Vulture G. rueppellii and suggested that it might best be regarded as a race of G. fulvus. Wink (1995) also found a close relationship between G. coprotheres and G. fulvus, based on the divergence in nucleotide sequences in the cytochrome b gene, and suggested that both taxa split from a common ancestor about 500,000 years ago. Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2000) found that G. rueppellii and G. himalayensis form a closely related monophyletic group with G. coprotheres and G. fulvus, based on nucleotide squences of the cytochrome b gene. Arshad et al. (2009) confirmed this relationship and also concluded that there has been a recent and rapid diversification among the Gyps vultures, coinciding with the diversification of Old World ungulates.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant, with juveniles dispersing from breeding areas (Bildstein 2006). Largely sedentary, but immatures wander more widely than adults and form loose flocks in "nursery areas" on the periphery of the range (Piper 1994). Mundy at al. (1992) reported that a radiotracked adult from the Potsberg colony foraged over an area of about 600 km². An extreme long distance ringing recovery was a bird reported 1,250 km from the original ringing site (Mundy et al. 1997). Some ringed chicks have returned to breed at their natal colonies, but others have joined other colonies. A juvenile fitted with a tracking device at Waterberg, Namibia, spent two weeks in the Okavanga Delta in mid-2005 (fide Demey 2006). more....

Habitat and Habits: Roosts and nests mainly on large cliffs in mountainous or hilly country, periodically soaring out over open country, woodland, and agricultural areas in search of food. Occasionally roosts on trees or pylons. Its current distribution is closely associated with subsistence communal grazing areas characterized by high livestock losses (Huntley et al. 1989). Young birds disperse and concentrate in nursery areas far from colonies.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds on large carcass carrion in large groups, often with other vulture species. There are numerous aggressive interactions between individuals at carcasses, and this species is dominant over the smaller, but more common, White-backed Vulture at carcasses. Irwin (1981) noted that this species is able to eat up to one kilogram in only two or three minutes.

Breeding: The breeding cycle spans most of the year, but egg laying occurs mostly between March to July in the central part of the range, about a month later in southwestern Cape Province (Irwin 1981), and a month earlier in Botswana (Borello and Borello 1993). Nests in large colonies on high, inaccessible cliffs with suitable ledges, and the distribution of the species may be limited by the availability of such sites (Tarboton 1990). The nest is a shallow platform of sticks lined with grass. Clutch size is usually a single egg. The incubation period is about 56 days, and the nestling period may extend to four months (Tarboton 1990). Both parents share incubation and feeding duties. more....

Conservation: This species has suffered a major decline in numbers in commercial farming areas in the Fynbos, Karoo, and grassland biomes, and its present distribution is fragmented (Mundy et al. 1997, Anderson 2000, Piper 2004). The chief cause of the decline is poisoning, but other factors, including powerline electrocutions/collisions, habitat loss resulting in food shortages, disturbance at colonies, harvesting for use in traditional medicine, and drowning in farm reservoirs, are also important (Anderson 2000). The total global population was estimated at about 10,000 birds (3,000 breeding pairs and 4,000 non-breeding birds) by Piper (2004), who estimated a decline of about 0.73% per year in the breeding population since 1997. A more recent estimate of 4,000 pairs was given by Simmons and Jenkins (2007). BirdLife International (2015) now categorizes this bird as "Endangered" globally. more....

Important References: 
Anderson, M.C. 2000. Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. Pp. 73-75 in K.N.
  Barnes (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and
  Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Boshoff, A.F., and M.D. Anderson (eds.). 2006. Toward a conservation plan
  for the Cape Griffon Gyps coprotheres: identifying priorities for research
  and conservation action. Report no. 55, Port Elisabeth Center for African
  Conservation Ecology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (downloadable
  at http://www.nmmu.ac.za/ace).
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. Cape Griffon. P. 128 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., P.C. Benson, and D.G. Allan. 1997. Cape Vulture. Pp. 158-159
  in J.A. Harrison (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. 2004. Cape Griffon Gyps coprotheres. Pp. 5-11 in A. Monadjem,
  M.D. Anderson, S.E. Piper, and A.F. Boshoff (eds.), The vultures of southern
  Africa -- quo vadis? Birds of Prey Working Group, Johannesburg, South
Piper, S.E. 2005. Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. Pp. 489-491 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
Steyn, P. 1983. Birds of prey of southern Africa. Tanager Books, Dover,

Current Research: Sightings of wing-tagged Cape Vultures should be reported to André Botha at andreb@ewt.org or 082-962-5725.

Sites of Interest:
Cape Vulture photos.

Chiweshe, Ngoni
Johnson, Jeff A.

Last modified: 2/5/2016

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 4 Jul. 2020

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