16 of the World's Most Endangered Vulture Species

The disappearance of these birds has dire consequences.

California condor sitting in tree at the Grand Canyon
Beth Morris / Getty Images

Vultures have an undeserved bad reputation. Though they may be perceived as dirty, ugly scavengers, ecosystems rely on these birds to reduce the spread of diseases, which they accomplish by cleaning up carrion. Yet vulture populations — particularly in Africa and Asia — have plummeted in recent decades. All but seven of the 23 species are now considered near threatened, vulnerable to extinction, endangered, or critically endangered. Humans are not only the culprits of but also some of the most impacted by their decline.

Learn about the 16 threatened species of vulture and why saving them is so important.

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Andean Condor

Two Andean condors on a rock in the mountains
Galen Rowell / Getty Images

A national symbol of several South American countries, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is considered to be vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss and secondary poisoning from animal carcasses killed by hunters. It's a long-lived bird (living 50 years in the wild and even longer in captivity), which — paired with a low reproductive rate — means it's especially vulnerable to losses from human activity or persecution.

Captive breeding and reintroduction programs have helped to stabilize populations in Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia. The Andean condor served as a test pilot of sorts for conservation efforts surrounding the critically endangered California condor.

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Cinereous Vulture

Cinereous vulture standing next to a pond
shene / Getty Images

With an astounding wingspan of 10 feet, the cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) is considered one of the largest flying birds in the world. Also known as the black vulture, monk vulture, and Eurasian black vulture, the bird has been listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as a near-threatened species.

Distributed throughout temperate Eurasia, the cinereous vulture will sometimes consume poison intended to kill wild dogs and other predators. Other threats include habitat disruption from human development and lack of carrion to eat. It's estimated that only 15,600 to 21,000 remain.

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Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon standing amid foliage
Arun Roisri / Getty Images

This Himalayan griffon (Gyps himalayensis) is found high in the Himalayas, the Pamirs, Kazakhstan, and on the Tibetan Plateau. Though susceptible to toxicity induced by diclofenac, a drug found in domestic animal carcasses, it hasn't experienced the rapid decline that other species have. Even so, it's considered near threatened, with between 66,000 and 334,000 mature individuals remaining.

Asia's Gyps vulture population has declined by 95 percent, which has increased the potential for mammalian scavengers to transmit diseases — like anthrax, cholera, and botulism — that their stomachs, unlike a vulture's, can't handle.

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Bearded Vulture

Bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) standing on grass

Svein Jarle Anglevik / Getty Images

The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) is one of the few vultures with plumage on its face, hence its common name. Categorized as an Old World vulture, it will sometimes kill live tortoises, hares, marmots, and rock hyraxes, and rather than feasting on their meat, it eats their bone marrow, which comprises up to 90 percent of its diet.

In 2014, the species was reassessed from least concern to near threatened. Habitat loss, degradation, and human-raptor conflict has threatened populations in its home continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. There are thought to be between 1,300 and 6,700 left.

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Lappet-Faced Vulture

Nubian vulture (lappet-faced vulture) on a rock
Arthur Morris / Getty Images

The endangered lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) has a patchy distribution throughout Africa. It's a big, strong bird that can tear through tough hides better than others, meaning it often eats before other vultures even get a chance. But despite the advantage, populations are declining due to habitat loss, fewer natural prey, and ingesting poison intended for jackals and other local pests — all direct results of the increase in cattle ranching. Sometimes, they are specifically targeted by cattle herders and poachers, as vultures can sometimes expose their illegal kill sites. There are now fewer than 6,000 lappet-faced vultures left in the world.

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Cape Vulture

Cape vulture perched against the sky
Mark Newman / Getty Images

The cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres), found in southern Africa, tends to nest and roost in colonies and forage with others, increasing the likelihood of several birds being poisoned by a carcass at once. Another reason the cape vulture is endangered is the lack of large carnivores, no doubt due to increased farming. Large carnivores help to break up bones and tough hides so that vultures can actually eat them.

The IUCN estimates that there are about 9,400 left in the world. Conservation efforts include spreading awareness and setting up feeding areas so the vultures can get the nutrition they need.

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Egyptian Vulture

Close-up of Egyptian vulture perched on rock
Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) stands out for its unique appearance. It has a bald face and long feathers covering its neck, creating a spiky crest. Despite its large range — from southwestern Europe to India — it is now endangered after having lost half or more of its population in the past three generations.

The birds migrate thousands of miles south to Africa for winter, often experiencing food shortages due to changes in territory. Additionally, they are threatened by the deterioration and loss of habitat, wind farms, agricultural chemicals, and feral dogs.

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White-Headed Vulture

Close-up of white-headed vulture facing the camera
Ger Bosma / Getty Images

Though it is called the white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), this critically endangered bird certainly has a colorful face. Like some other vulture species, it's both a scavenger and a hunter, targeting small vertebrates. It's found in sub-Sahara Africa and has a very large range. Even so, populations have been declining for decades due to a loss of habitat and suitable food sources. In southern Africa, the white-headed vulture is now found almost only in protected areas. There are an estimated 2,500 to 10,000 individuals left, the IUCN says.

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White-Backed Vulture

White-backed vulture sitting on tree stump
renATE photography / Getty Images

The white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) likes lowland, wooded savannas and can be found nesting in tall trees from South Africa to the Sahara. It's the most common vulture in Africa and one of the most widespread, but is also critically endangered, feared to go locally extinct by 2034.

In addition to poisoning and the decline of ungulate species in its habitat, the white-backed vulture is also targeted for trade. Though it does live in protected areas, the fact that it travels so far for food means that individuals spend ample time unprotected, thus making them even more vulnerable.

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Rüppell's Vulture

Flying Rüppell's vulture at Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Pablo Rudaeff / 500px / Getty Images

Rüppell's vulture (Gyps rueppelli) is one of the highest flying birds, sadly having collided with a commercial airplane at 37,000 feet in 1973. Normally, they hang out at around 20,000 feet, using their keen eyesight to spot meals. Because the species is a strict scavenger, it travels vast distances for food.

Rüppell's vulture was bumped from endangered to critically endangered in 2015, now comprising only about 22,000 birds worldwide. Population declines have been attributed to habitat loss related to human-related land use, poisoning, and loss of nesting sites and food sources. They are also sometimes used for medicine and meat.

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Hooded Vulture

Hooded vulture sitting against the sky
Ger Bosma / Getty Images

The hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus), found in sub-Saharan Africa, is especially small. Its size allows it to rise up on thermals faster and be the first to spot a carcass. It also puts it last in line when larger vultures arrive at a food source first. They will catch insects and forage at dumps near human habitation, too.

Despite its resourcefulness, the now critically endangered species is declining rapidly due to nontargeted poisoning and being captured for traditional medicine and bushmeat. Scientists say Africa's dwindling vulture population could cost the continent dearly in waste and carcass removal.

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Indian Vulture

Indian vulture sitting in Ranthambore National Park
Aditya Singh / Getty Images

The Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) feeds on carrion around dumps and slaughterhouses in residential areas. As a result, it's been hit hard by the veterinary drug diclofenac. The IUCN, which lists it as a critically endangered species, says declines "probably began in the 1990s and were extremely rapid."

India's dwindling vulture population caused the region's feral dog population to increase by seven million over an 11-year period, which led to almost 40 million dog bites and a deadly rabies outbreak. Captive breeding programs now aim to slow their decline, but because the birds don't reach maturity until five years old, it may take decades to see improvement. There are currently about 30,000 left.

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Slender-Billed Vulture

Slender-billed vulture perched in a tree

Mike Prince / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The critically endangered slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) lives along the Sub-Himalayan Range and in Southeast Asia. Like the Indian vulture, it has experienced a precipitous decline due to diclofenac, now boasting only 1,000 to 2,499 individuals worldwide.

The Wildlife Conservation Society of Cambodia encourages what is called "vulture ecotourism," which involves dining at "vulture restaurants" where guests can watch the spectacular birds and feed them safe and nutritious food, in turn supporting their breeding efforts and helping the species as a whole. These eateries are run by The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project in partnership with national and international NGOs.

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Indian White-Rumped Vulture

Indian white-rumped vulture with wings spread on the ground
Michel VIARD / Getty Images

The white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) has experienced the fastest decline of any bird species in recorded history. What's even more heartbreaking is that it was actually one of the most common large birds of prey in the world in the '80s. Now, only one in a thousand survives.

The critically endangered species is threatened by a range of things: disease, pesticides, environmental contamination, poisoning, reduced food availability, calcium deficiency, reduced nesting habitat, nest predators, hunting, and aircraft strikes, notably. There are thought to be between 2,500 and 9,999 white-rumped vultures left.

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Red-Headed Vulture

Red-headed vulture sitting on a tree branch
Lensalot / Getty Images

The red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), also critically endangered, is easily identified by its bright red head and neck, as well as the two broad folds of skin on either side of the neck, known as lappets. Once ranging across the Indian subcontinent, it's now restricted to northern India. In just a few decades, a species numbering in the hundreds of thousands is now close to extinction with fewer than 10,000 individuals estimated to be left in the wild. Its biggest threat, like all Indian vultures', is diclofenac.

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California Condor

California condor sitting on a rock
Weili Li / Getty Images

The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) was once widespread across North America, but the end of the last ice age shrank its range to the West Coast and the Southwest only. In addition to fostering biodiversity and adding to the genetic makeup of its environment, this bird is also integral to its ecosystem. If it goes extinct, other species could as well.

Due mostly to lead poisoning, the species went extinct in the wild in 1987. As a result of intensive recovery programs, California condor populations are increasing, and there are now thought to be 93 mature individuals in the wild.

View Article Sources
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