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Lappet-faced Vulture
Torgos tracheliotus

Status: Endangered

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Torgos tracheliotus, African Black Vulture, King Vulture, Nubian Vulture.

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Torgos tracheliotus
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Distribution: Afrotropical/Palearctic. ISRAEL (formerly), MOROCCO (formerly), EGYPT, and the Arabian Peninsula south throughout most of eastern sub-Saharan Africa to SOUTH AFRICA, although patchily distributed. more....

Subspecies: 3 races. T. t. negeviensis: Southern ISRAEL (now extinct in the wild); T. t. nubicus: EGYPT and the Arabian Peninsula south to northern SUDAN; T. t. tracheliotus: Southwestern MOROCCO (formerly) and southern MAURITANIA east to ETHIOPIA and KENYA, south through ANGOLA and MOZAMBIQUE to SOUTH AFRICA. more....

Taxonomy: Based on molecular sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, Wink (1995) found that this species belongs to the largest of two clades of Old World vultures, which contains the genera Aegypius, Gyps, Sarcogyps, Torgos, and Trigonoceps. Stresemann and Amadon (1979) and Amadon and Bull (1988) recommended that the four monotypic genera of large Old World vultures be merged into a single genus, Aegypius, and Wink (op cit.) agreed, noting that the relatively small genetic distances between them are typical for intrageneric distances in other groups. This recommendation was followed by Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001). In Wink's analysis, this species and the Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) always clustered as sister species, which differ by 3.8% nucleotide substitutions. The molecular data of Wink and Sauer-Gurth (2000, 2004) also confirmed the close relationship between the monotypic vulture genera, and they suggested that this species is probably a recent offshoot from the Cinereous Vulture, Aegypius monachus. The spelling of the species epithet shold probbly be "tracheliotos, according to Shimelis et al. (2005). more....

Movements: Some adults are likely sedentary and probably resident, but some adults are nomadic at times, probably in response to rainfall changes, and first-year birds may wander widely. There are some records of dispersal in West Africa during the rainy season, which lasts from June to September (Mundy et al. 1992). The farthest known distance tranversed by such an individual, which was also fitted with a patagial tag, was 1,107 km (Mundy 1997) and likely represents post-fledging dispersal. By 1998, 650 of these vultures had been ringed in Namibia, mostly as nestlings, and there had been 30 recoveries at distances of 120-700 km (Oatley et al. 1998). The occasional occurrence of vagrants in countries (e.g., Spain) beyond the usual breeding range is also an indicator of the nomadic tendencies of this species. more....

Habitat and Habits: Prefers open, semi-arid or arid habitat, including deserts, steppes, grasslands, savannas, and open woodland, especially with scattered acacias. Less common in moister or forested areas. Unlike the White-backed Vulture, this species also occurs in very arid areas, including the Namib, Kalahari, Somalia, and, formerly, Negev Deserts. Usually occurs singly or in pairs, but small groups are sometimes encountered at larger carcasses. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Mainly a scavenger, but also takes small mammals (rabbits and hares), live domestic stock (Simmons 1995, Maritz 1997) and, in Botswana, flamingo chicks and nestlings (McCulloch 2004, 2006). Usually found in pairs, or singly, and is dominant over all other vulture species at carcasses. Typically, this species is usually the last to arrive, and usually, no more than four or five individuals are present at a single carcass. This large species can tear thick skin and may play an important role in the opening of carcasses for other vulture species (Mundy et al. 1992). more....

Breeding: Egg-laying starts in most areas in May, and breeding is inversely correlated with rainfall in some areas, as in Namibia (Bridgeford and Bridgeford 2003), probably because of the higher mortality of ungulates during drier periods. This species does not nest colonially, although pairs tend to nest in loose clusters with individual nests as close as 1 km (Tarboton 1990). The nest is a large platform of sticks up to 2 m in diameter, usually placed on top of a small, isolated tree. Clutch size is usually one egg (rarely two), which is dull white with reddish-brown blotches. The incubation period is 56 days. and post-fledging dependence occupies the remainder of the 12-month cycle; thus, breeding usually occurs biennially (Mundy 1997). The pair shares parental duties. Birds reach sexual maturity at five or six years of age. more....

Conservation: This is the most widespread African vulture, but it is patchily distributed and scarce in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It has been extirpated from much of its former breeding range in large portions of South Africa, northwestern Africa, Jordan, and Israel. It suffers greatly from poisoning in southern Africa, and a single episode wiped out 86 birds, representing 10% of the total Namibian population (Simmons 1995). Additional mortality factors include drowning in farm reservoirs, electrocution, collision with power lines, disturbance during breeding, habitat destruction (loss of nest trees), and changing land use patterns due to expanding human populations (Bridgeford 2004). An International Action Plan for this species was completed in 2005 (Shimelis et al. 2005), and it is classified as Endangered by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: The global population was estimated at 8,500 individuals, including 8,000 in Africa and an additional 500 birds in the Arabian Peninsula (Mundy et al. 1992). They also thought that there could be 1,000 breeding pairs and 3,000 total individuals in southern Africa. According to the Species Action Plan released in 2005, about 500 pairs still exist in West Africa, and the global population was thought to be at least 8,000 individuals (Shimelis et al. 2005). more....

Important References: 
Anderson, M.D. 2000. Lappetfaced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus. Pp. 77-79 in
  K.N. Barnes (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho
  and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Bridgeford, P. 2004. Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus. Pp. 28-33
  in A. Monadjem, M.D. Anderson, S.E. Piper, and A.F. Boschoff (eds.),
  The vultures of southern Africa -- quo vadis? Birds of Prey Working Group,
  Johannesburg, South Africa.
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.C. 1994. Lappet-faced Vulture. P. 129 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. Lappetfaced Vulture. Pp. 162-163 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. Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus. Pp. 491-492 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.
Shimelis, A., E. Sande, S. Evans, and P. Mundy (eds.). 2005. International
  Species Action Plan for the Lappet-faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotus.
  BirdLife International, Nairobi, Kenya, and Royal Society for the Protection
  of Birds, Sandy, Bedfordshire, UK.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.

Sites of Interest:
BirdLife International
Details on status and conservation needs.
Lappet-faced Vulture photos.

Hancock, Pete
Kendall, Corinne
Obodi, Veryl Achieng
Rondeau, Guy

Last modified: 2/5/2016

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Jul. 2021

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