Results of the study of distribution population size and habitat choice of
Cinereous Vulture (Ayegypius monachus) in Armenia (2002–2007)
Distribution, Population and Trends
The first study of the Cinereous Vulture was started by ASPB in 2002 to estimate the breeding population size of the cinereous vultures in Armenia and clarify its distribution and habitat choice. Around the middle of the XX century the range of the cinereous vulture in Armenia included Tavush province in the north, Vayots Dzor and Syunik provinces in the south, and Kotayk and Ararat provinces in the central part of the country [Fig. 1]. However the study by ASPB with support from BirdLife International showed that vultures bred only in the Khosrov Reserve, but they also foraged outside the protected area [Fig. 2].
Fig 1. The breeding range of Cinereous Vulture in Armenia until 1980s.
Fig 2. Recent distribution of Cinereous Vulture in Armenia (2000 – 2008)
The species population remained stable until the 1960s, with a total of 50 pairs approximately, but decreased drastically to 18 pairs in 1983, 13 pairs in 1987 and 12-15 pairs by 2000, due mainly to reduced food availability and persecution [Fig. 3]. Recent counts for the whole country have included a total of 7-8 pairs in 2002, six breeding pairs in 2003 and seven breeding pairs in 2004, all located in Khosrov. Single individuals are also occurring in adjacent areas belonging to the mountainous part of Armenia. The last recorded breeding in Tavush and Vayots Dzor was in the 1990s. Recent records in the North and in the Southeast of the countries name single 2-3 year old non-breeding birds. In 2004 seven breeding pairs were counted in Khosrov. Until today, Khosrov is the only breeding site of Cinereous Vulture in Armenia.
Fig. 3 Graph of pop decline
One of the major facts affecting the population is the shortage of food due to a livestock decline since the collapse of the soviet agricultural system and anthropogenic disturbance while breeding and hatching. Firstly, there were huge reductions in livestock numbers. Secondly, since the beak-up of the Soviets traditional methods of disposing animal carcasses and offal, leaving them available to scavengers are no longer practiced. And lastly, the illegal hunting his having impact on the populations of wild ungulates and other prey species. All these impacts combined lead to a population decline by more than 60% in the last 40 years.
In addition, among the local communities, there is misconceptions about damage caused by raptors. As a consequence, the cinereous vulture still suffers from disturbance from human activities, destruction of nests (shepherds, herb pickers, and children), shooting (poachers) and nest pillaging (poachers, children). ASPB is concerned about further conservation activities to prevent Cinereous Vulture from local extinction in Armenia.
Breeding vultures are found in a mosaic of open arid habitats with juniper groves, steppes, scrublands and grasslands, at 900 m up to 2,000 m above sea level [Fig. 4 and 5]. The number of suitable habitats has declined over the last decade because of overgrazing the scrubland and intensive anthropogenic disturbance. Foraging birds can be found in semidesert mountainous areas and alpine meadows, at 700 m up to 3,500 m above sea level. The bird's habitat preferences concerning breeding and their specialization on carcasses without the ability of hunting lead to a particular vulnerability of Cinereous Vulture. Unless Cinereous Vultures other vultures have the opportunity to evade to less disturbed places on e.g. rocks. The nesting sites on top of low juniper trees are easily reachable by predators, especially human beings. On the other hand the above mentioned specialization makes the animal dependant on the availability of carcasses which is declining since several years.
Fig 4. and 5. Breeding habitat of Cinereous Vulture in Khosrov Reserve
Due to the problem of food shortage, a supplemental feeding program throughout the breeding season was established to compensate the lack of carcasses aroused by the decline of livestock grazing and wild ungulates in Khosrov. The carcasses were put out in suitable sites additionally treated with chemical repellents to eliminate potential predation from terrestrial animals such as wolves, bears and lynxes. Supplemental feeding was not always successful because of bears ignoring the repellents and tracking the carcasses away.
Fig. 6. Treatment of the feeding site with chemical repellents
Fig. 7. Putting out the carcass.
To underline the importance of Cinereous Vulture Protection in Armenia, several meetings were held to create awareness among local shepherds who graze their livestock in close proximity to the Reserve. To increase public awareness of the problems concerning black vulture conservation, education units were also delivered to the local school, because local schoolchildren are known to engage in destruction of the nests and robbing eggs and the nestlings for the purpose of pet maintenance. Information was also given to local shepherds and the local Hunting Association in Ararat region to create awareness of the importance of vultures in the wild, particularly the Cinereous Vulture, and their valuable role played in helping to reduce the spread of contagious diseases by consuming dead animals.