[Regular readers of the Saving Species blog will be aware of our work on the Critically Endangered sociable lapwing. RSPB's Rob Sheldon is the co-ordinator of the AEWA Sociable Lapwing International Working Group, and he reports back on a recent field expedition to their breeding grounds]
Kazakhstan is the world’s largest land-locked country and is the 9th largest country in the world, covering an area the size of western Europe. More than 95% of the breeding population of sociable lapwing nest on the Kazakh steppes, so undertaking a co-ordinated count of these birds is a huge logistical challenge. Earlier this year, the BirdLife partner ACBK, led by Ruslan Urazaliev, organised 5 field teams, surveying Uralsk, Kostanay, Korgalzhyn, Pavlodar and Semipaletinsk.
Ruslan Urazaliev of ACBK surveying for sociable lapwings
If the sheer geographical scale of the challenge wasn’t significant enough, plans were severely disrupted by unseasonably poor weather conditions. Strong cold winds from the north held up many migrating birds, including our sociable lapwings, and the number found was much lower than expected. Heavy rain in parts made driving problematic too, and many survey days were lost to the wet conditions.
The data are still being collated, but only 2 birds were recorded in the western part of Kazakhstan near the Uralsk river catchment, and 25 birds in the Kostanay area. More than 120 birds were found in the eastern part of the range, and about 75 birds in the northern area near Pavlodar. The core area in Korgalzhyn, where the population is studied intensively, had low numbers for a second year running with just 40 nests located. Additional survey work is required next year to assess how representative the data are. Is this just a blip because of the poor weather, or should we be concerned about falling numbers?
Three adult sociable lapwings were fitted with 5g satellite transmitters in Kazakhstan in June to help further our understanding of their migration routes. The information from these tagged birds will be made available on the Amazing Journey web-site so you can follow their perilous migration to their wintering grounds.
Satellite tagged female
The field teams were provided with excellent optical equipment by Swarovski Optik, who continue to support the sociable lapwing project as a BirdLife Species Champion. Additional funding was provided by the MBZ Species Conservation Fund.
Sociable lapwing survey team
Guest blog by Eugenie Arrowsmith - artist, performer & freelance music consultant, passionate about vultures!
Midway through my first course of chemotherapy in 2009 I watched a documentary on the sad plight of vultures in Asia as a result of diclofenac poisoning and I was completely horrified. At the time on my beside table was a bottle of diclofenac tablets, prescribed to help me with the horrific side effects of my treatment. I was immediately struck by how awful it must be for any living creature to die slowly from any form of poisoning. For obvious reasons at the time I was over identifying slightly as a result of my own treatment. I was astonished that a species so precious to the ecosystem/planet could be wiped out to such catastrophic levels, by a simple anti inflammatory. I was moved to tears I must be honest because it is completely tragic. I painted 'Heart of Compassion' because I needed to express my sadness for us all really, as a human family we seem to be slipping blind folded into situations like this, without a second thought for the long term consequences for ourselves and for the planet we share. I have set up this just giving page http://www.justgiving.com/Eugenie-Arrowsmith because I want to do something. It's a small thing I know but we all have to start somewhere if we want the world to be different. I am lucky I am better but for 99% of the Asian Vulture population sadly that has not been the case. My ambition is to raise enough money to build at least one enclosure by selling prints.
Heart of Compassion, by Eugenie Arrowsmith
To find out more about what the RSPB and partners are doing to save the Asian vulture, visit www.save-vultures.org
Ananya Mukherjee, Vulture Safe Zone Co-ordinator, shares a vivid experience of the impact of the critical decline in Asian vultures. She shares also shares a vivid picture - its not for the faint hearted!
Ever seen or smelt a fresh carcass being eaten by stray dogs? I hadn’t! But I was fortunate enough to experience one. And the first time I did was in Gujarat when we went to a carcass dump outside Ahmedabad to speak to locals about vultures. Peak summers, dusty roads and scorching sun all mixed into the air made the sight a spectacle to behold. And the smell was an experience in itself. My first reaction was to be revolted to the extent that I was sick with the intense raw smell of carcass. Not to exclude the sight of the dogs tearing the meat out, which was not the most enticing visual display, or appealing to my senses.
It is a candid illustration of the sordid state of affairs with the disappearance of nature’s most efficient cleaners, the vultures! The disappearance of vultures, I realised, also spells of ‘a risky society’ in another sense as well. Apart from the animal carcasses lying around to be scavenged by dogs and kites, it has the potential danger of spreading infectious diseases - especially with the onset of the monsoon season. Groundwater contamination, along with an environment full of pollutants is an inevitable consequence of this. On my way back, I saw plenty of cattle in the area as there was a big cattle shelter there. I hope that vulture numbers will keep growing, to help prevent environmental contamination and the rotten carcass smell which was still lingering in the distant air, long after we had left the carcass dump!
To find out more about our work to Save Asian Vultures from Extinction, and how you can help, visit www.save-vultures.org/