An Egyptian Vulture tracked in the frame of Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project was lost in April 2020 in Iraq. Its name is Loma - an adult vulture tagged with GPS transmitter in December 2019 in Ethiopia. After spending few months in Afar, Loma started his spring migration on 21st March. He crossed the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb to reach Yemen and headed north through Saudi Arabia. For only 12 days Loma travelled over 3,000 km to reach its breeding grounds in the mountains of Kurdistan region in Iraq. It settled in a mountainous area west of Erbil and was regularly roosting on high-voltage powerline. Apparently, the vulture was looking for a breeding territory and a partner, but in the afternoon of 15th April he suddenly stopped moving. His GPS tracker started walking on the mountain paths and descending towards a village with a human pace. On the next day, the transmitter was brought to a house in the suburbs of Hajiawa town. It was clear that Loma came to a tragic end.
We contacted our colleagues from Nature Iraq with a request to investigate on this case and reveal the cause of Loma’s death. An immediate field mission was organized and led by Korsh Ararat from Nature Iraq/Kurdistan Botanical Foundation. Despite the current travelling restrictions due to the Covid19 outbreak, the team held an authorized investigation about the fate of Loma visiting all last locations received from Loma’s transmitter. The place of death was also visited but no remains or traces from the vulture were found. Finally, the GPS transmitter was provided by shepherds from the neighboring village who stated to have found the device in the mountain but claiming that they do not know what has happened with the bird. Since no other obvious threats like dangerous powerlines or carcasses laced with poison were found at Loma’s last location and after in-depth analyses of the GPS data, we speculate that the vulture was most probably shot.
Although shooting of raptors is a crime in Iraq, the country rates relatively high in the Middle Eastern region with 329,000 birds on average estimated to be illegally killed or taken each year according to the last estimates. Even though shooting of raptors is considered rare in the region of Kurdistan, Loma’s story suggests that IKB is still possibly a threat for this globally endangered species there. Nature Iraq and a TV team were filming during this mission. The video on the case would aim to raise awareness among the local community about the import role vultures play in the ecosystems and human’s responsibility to save these majestic birds.
GPS tracking is an important research tool which enables us to identify the main threats for the species and plan adequate conservation measures. It is a sad end for Loma, but hopefully this information would help us to save many more Egyptian Vulture’s lives in future.
We are very grateful to Korsh Ararat from Nature Iraq, the mayor of Hajiawa, Forest Police of Ranya, Green Kurdistan Association and the local security for immediately organizing a very successful mission under difficult circumstances to investigate the fate of Loma.
Bnwar Rzgar Abdulrahman