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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Home range size
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

The GSM-GPS transmitters have now been on the vultures for over six months. With over 8000 data points, we can learn a lot from the movement of these fourteen birds. Today I calculated the home range size or the size of the area that a single bird has used based on every location point that we have. The home range sizes are astounding. A single bird, an African White-backed vulture to be exact, can have a range size of up to 97,000 km2 (37,500 mi2). That is almost the size of Pennsylvania, about 1/6 the size of Kenya, and nearly twice the size of one of the largest protected parks in Africa (Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania). In just six months, a single bird can thus span far beyond the entire Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, using many of the other protected areas scattered around southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. If just one individual needs such a large area to survive, it is easy to imagine why the conservation of these species is so complicated. No park will ever to large enough to protect the entire range of even a single individual for most vulture species. Instead we must hope that the birds can travel safely over cities, towns, villages, farms, and livestock pastures. Sadly with people poisoning carcasses, we know that safe passage isn’t guaranteed. With such huge range sizes we know something else. The vultures have a lot to tell us about ecosystem health. Their survival and population numbers give us information not just about a single park, but about the entire system of protected areas in East Africa. Vultures could be the key to monitoring these preserves and the areas around them, providing us with vital information about the other wildlife species they depend on for food and about the use of poisons, chemicals, and pollution across these large land areas on which they rely. By studying them, we are learning not just about the vultures but about the larger East African savanna.

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