Raptor Conservation in Altai

Upland buzzard (Buteo hemilansius), photo by Ilya SmelyanskyAltai Republic is home to significant populations of large raptors, a number of which are endangered in Russia or on a decreasing trend globally – Saker falcon, eastern imperial eagle, steppe eagle, upland buzzard, greater spotted eagle, bearded vulture, lesser kestrel, Eurasian eagle owl, peregrine falcon and others. Altai Republic has 8 Important Bird Areas, defined by BirdLife International as “internationally significant for bird conservation,” and “recognized worldwide as practical tools for conservation”.

Raptor killed on a powerline, photo by Siberian Environmental Center)What threats do raptors face in the region?
In Altai, we are particularly concerned with the fate of steppe eagles, eastern imperial eagles, and Saker falcons. They live in the wide open steppe and treeless mountains of southeastern Altai Republic and are threatened by illegal killings, poaching for trafficking internationally, electrocution on powerlines and cellular network towers, and habitat loss and disturbance.

Trafficking, Powerlines, and Migration Mystery
Live capture by poachers of Saker falcons for sale to wealthy Middle Easterners using them for sport hunting and willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a single bird has decimated the bird’s population in Altai and much of its Central Asian range. The birds often die due to mishandling while being smuggled drugged and in suitcases. Improperly installed or absent bird protection devices on transmission lines and towers kill significant numbers of birds, despite laws requiring their use. Mining, timber harvest, and human disturbance drive birds out of their traditional nesting habitats. Lastly, we are discovering that recently fledged steppe eagles depart to migrate thousands of miles southward but fail to return the following spring for mysterious reasons.

What work does The Altai Project support?Measuring and ringing raptor nestlings
The Altai Project has been collaborating with Siberian Environmental Center (SEC) for over a decade and supporting their raptor conservation efforts since 2011. The SEC ornithologists have painstakingly surveyed thousands of kilometers of raptor habitat, marking nesting sites, proximity to utility lines and towers, raptor mortality, and other important details. Whenever possible, they carefully band fledglings and other birds to permit better tracking of specific individuals during dispersal and migration.

SEC collaborates closely with the Russian Raptors Research and Conservation Network and other organizations to share data and explore trends. When their team finds electrocuted birds, they collect the evidence and file complaints with local authorities who in turn collect fines from the responsible utility. The SEC team also works closely with mobile and electrical utilities to encourage them to properly equip and maintain transmission lines and towers with cheap but effective bird protection devices.

What can you do to help?

  • Support bird banding, radio tracking, and expedition costs with a donation
  • Join us on a Wild Altai expedition in summer 2015 and learn about raptors first-hand
  • Connect us to a conservation or birding group so we can expand our reach (add in your e-mail as a link to “connect us”)

Visit our raptor gallery to see these birds and our conservation work.

Steppe eaglet trio (photo by Igor Karyakin)

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