Cinereous Vulture Research

To study the ecology of cinereous vultures in Mongolia


The cinereous vulture,  Aegypius monachus, is the largest old world vulture. The species is classified as "Near-threatened" at world level and "Vulnerable" at European level, and is globally declining . Being a predatory bird with a long life-span and a huge home-range it needs vast areas of unspoiled landscape, and these are becoming increasingly rare in many parts of the species' range. The designation of protected areas is not enough to guarantee the survival of such dispersed species which exploit a variety of habitat types. Broad policies sensitive to the environment are necessary to ensure that also the countryside outside protected areas retains the capacity to sustain vulture populations.


One of the last healthy populations exists in Mongolia; a large proportion of which breeds in Ikh Nartiin Nature Reserve in Dornogobi Aimag (or Province). Partly because of this, Ikh Nart was recently designated an Important Bird Area


Vultures in Ikh Nart nest primarily on rocky outcrops and in the scattered elm trees (Ulmus pumila) in the reserve. As with other vulture species in other areas of the world, nest site availability appears to constrain breeding cinereous vultures to areas with suitable nesting habitat. By studying factors influencing nesting success it is hoped to gain a better understanding of factors influencing the vultures' nesting success in Ikh Nart. This data can then be used by BirdLife International (IBA MN041) to support declining populations of cinereous vultures elsewhere .


In order to better understand the ecology, nesting and breeding of the cinereous (black) vulture living in Ikh Nartiin, a field research project was drawn up in 2003. Through better understanding, a conservation management plan can be developed to increase population numbers and ensure the species’ long-term health in areas where there numbers are declining.

In the framework of the project, reproductive success rates are determined, nests constructed on trees compared with those built on rocky outcrops, data on chick development gathered, and factors influencing nesting success assessed. Reproductive success is determined by locating active nest sites (sites with an egg or chick) and then periodically checking to determine if they remain active. In 2006, no less than 215 vulture nest sites were checked. Location of the nest site is recorded as well as nestling size and weights. Additional data collected include egg fertility assessments, egg shell thickness measurements, chick measurements and initial tracking of wing tagged and leg banded chicks. Most nests fail prior to egg hatching. After hatching nesting success rates increased dramatically. The results have allowed for better conservation of the ecosystem.

On the basis of these results, conservation management recommendations are provided to the appropriate Mongolian government agencies, other biologists, and non-governmental organisations working to conserve and recover the species in Mongolia and elsewhere on a regular basis. The project organisation also works closely with local people to increase their support for conservation and to try to induce changes in livestock husbandry and wildlife use practices that will benefit the area’s wildlife. Finally, researchers from the Denver Zoological Foundation work closely with their Mongolian colleagues in the field and in formal learning situations (graduate programmes and short course) to transfer skills and build a cadre of well-trained, dedicated conservation biologists.


WAZA Conservation Project 06030 is jointly implemented by the Denver Zoological Foundation, Mongolian Conservation Coalition, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, and National University of Mongolia and is supported by Cleveland Metropark Zoo.  


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