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Nesting habitat preference of the African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus and the effects of anthropogenic disturbance


*Corresponding author.


The African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa but populations are in decline. Loss of suitable habitat for foraging and breeding are among the most important causes, and future conservation will require identification of suitable remaining habitat and the threats to it and to the vultures in it. Like many large raptors, African White-backed Vultures have a long breeding cycle and thus spend much of each year near their nest site, but ecological correlates of nest sites have not been quantified for any African vulture species. We use nest-site data for African White-backed Vultures collected during aerial and ground surveys and habitat data derived from a GIS to develop statistical models that estimate the probability of nest presence in relation to habitat characteristics, and test these models against an independent dataset. The models predicted that both direct and indirect disturbance by humans limit the potential distribution. Suitable habitat needs to be identified and receive adequate protection from poaching. Poaching of vultures is thought to be mainly for use in traditional medicine and does not target any particular species, so all vulture species can be considered equally at risk. We predict the likelihood of individuals nesting in currently unprotected areas should they become protected. These predictions show that readily available GIS data combined with relatively simple statistical modelling can provide meaningful large-scale predictions of habitat availability.