Dr. Rich Reading (Denver Zoo) reports that a young cinereous vulture tagged in Mongolia as part of his Earthwatch-supported research was spotted 1200 miles away, near Pusan, South Korea. The vulture was tagged last August. Two other vultures were subsequently sighted in other parts of South Korea and one was seen in Heibei Province, China. Scientists have suspected that birds from Mongolia sometimes winter in Korea, but believe that their research provides the first documented confirmation.
"We were thrilled to learn that dedicated birders identified some of our tagged vultures hundreds of miles from their nests in Mongolia. This confirms our suspicions that some vultures travel far from their birth sites for at least some of the year," says Reading. "We hope that, over time, additional results will provide greater insight into the ranging patterns and conservation requirements of these impressive birds."
Wildlife biologists with the Denver Zoo and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences have been studying the nesting ecology of cinereous vultures in Mongolia's Ikh Nart Nature Reserve since 2003, with Earthwatch support. As part of their research, they have been placing leg bands on young vultures just before they fledge, and in 2005 began attaching large wing tags that were originally developed for California condors. Mongolian and Denver Zoo biologists initiated the study to better understand the factors influencing nesting success in the hopes of conserving the species and facilitate recovery in other portions of its range.
Cinereous vultures, also called Eurasian black vultures, are the largest raptors in Eurasia, and boast an impressive 8- to 9-foot wing span. These vultures are considered "vulnerable to extinction" in Europe by the World Conservation Union. Current estimates put the global population at about 4-6,000 individuals. These impressive birds breed in mountainous and steppe areas from Spain to Mongolia and south to the Himalayas. They have been spotted on Mount Everest at altitudes of up to 23,000 feet.
Mongolia supports the world's largest remaining breeding population of cinereous vultures, possibly more than 75 percent of the world's population of these vultures, which are declining everywhere else. Hunting, poisoning, loss of nesting habitat, human disturbance of nesting sites, and food scarcity are taking a toll on these surprisingly graceful birds.
Since 2003, Earthwatch teams have assisted Reading and his colleagues in tagging the wildlife living in Mongolia's Steppe and gathering data about their ecology. In addition to studying cinereous vultures, Reading's research subjects include the argali sheep, the largest mountain sheep in the world, lesser kestrels, hedgehogs, small carnivores, and Siberian ibexes. Data from Reading's research will help scientists inform local and regional managers about conservation and rehabilitation plans for cinereous vultures throughout their range.
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