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Monday, December 21, 2015

Sad News

It is with great regret that I report that the Egyptian vulture we have been tracking since January 2015 has died.  The Environment Society of Oman (ESO) has posted something on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/EnvironmentSocietyOfOman/?fref=ts).  The last transmission we had from this bird was in the afternoon of 13 December from a location just north of the Sifa Resort.  Sensors on board the transmitter showed it to be working normally, but the transmissions ended abruptly.  Below is a map of the locations in the week before the end of transmissions.

Vulture locations in the week before its death.
Last two locations
We waited for another transmission cycle to pass before worrying because other things can affect transmissions, like the amount of sunlight or whether the bird is in view of a satellite.  On 19 January Dr. Glyn Barret went in search of the bird, using the coordinates of its last location.  He found it dead from apparent electrocution under power lines and a transformer.  The transmitter was apparently fried.  See below.

Dead satellite tagged Egyptian vulture below power lines near Sifa. (Photo G. Barrett)
Last location.  One can see the shadow of the pylons in the picture above.

Dead vulture.  Transmitter can be clearly seen in the middle of the picture.(Photo G. Barrett)
The dead vulture during happier days (Photo W. AlFazari).
Worldwide electrocution is a huge problem for large birds, including many eagles and vultures.  Many of the species affected by electrocution (like the Egyptian vulture) are also endangered, and electrocution contributes to their poor conservation status.  Click here to access a paper on electrocution of Egyptian vultures in East Africa by Ivaylo Angelov and others.

Oman is recognized as a global stronghold for Egyptian vulture because of its seemingly stable breeding population, and as a destination for many migrants from farther north.  It is also an important winter destination for migrating eagles, like the endangered Steppe Eagle (which is on the 100 Baiza note) and Eastern Imperial Eagle.  Oman was thought to be relatively safe for Egyptian vultures, and other species, although the possibility that birds were being electrocuted was always there.  Sadly, this incident shows that electrocutions occur, we just don't know at what rate.  Indeed, it may have been that the other vulture we tracked, which disappeared in March, was also electrocuted.

In the coming days I'll post more information on the issue of electrocution and birds, so hopefully this sad event will have some positive effect.

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