Martial Eagle (South Africa)

Understanding the cause of Martial Eagle declines in the Kruger National Park, South Africa

Martial eagle

Rowen van Eeden is a Doctorate student at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa, and his thesis will involve research on Martial Eagle conservation in the Kruger National Park to understand the causative agents that are responsible for a steep decline in the population. His supervisor, Dr Arjun Amar, is based at the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence within the Institute. The research is being undertaken in collaboration with André Botha of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, South Africa and SANParks Kruger National Park. Natural Research is contributing to the project’s funding and co-supervising the study.  

The Martial Eagle is the largest African eagle species and functions as an apex predator within its savanna habitat.  The species is declining across its African range and has recently been upgraded to Near Threatened by the IUCN. Recent national bird surveys have also detected dramatic declines in South Africa over the last 20 years, with reporting rates declining by nearly 60%. It is therefore paramount that the causes of these declines are accurately identified and appropriate conservation actions implemented.

The species relies heavily on protected areas and it is thus particularly worrying that in South Africa, large declines have also been found within the protected areas, including within its main stronghold of the Kruger National Park. Adult Martial Eagles are thought to be largely sedentary, but sub-adults are believed to disperse over large distances, beyond the boundaries of protected areas where they are exposed to additional threats, such as human persecution. However, we know almost nothing about these movements or the types of habitats they use. One hypothesis proposed for the declines in protected areas is that high mortality of sub-adults dispersing beyond Park boundaries is resulting in fewer birds surviving to recruit back into the adult population. Alternatively, factors within the park (e.g. increased elephant abundance impacting on nesting trees) may be impacting directly on adult productivity and/or survival. Rowen’s research will study the Martial Eagles population of the Kruger National Park to determine the cause of declines and identify the threats to the species in this area. The project will utilize data on breeding success, mortality rates, and habitat use of adults breeding within the park together with a GPS tracking study which will specifically focus on survival rates, habitat use and causes of mortality of dispersing sub-adult birds, to understand the contributory factors in this population’s decline. This information will be used to develop a pragmatic conservation plan for the species in the region and elsewhere.

Rowans project featured in Episode Six of Fierce shown in the UK on ITV May 31st 2016.

There is also a face book page giving more details about the work of the project-

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