Raptor Conservation in Altai

Two Steppe eagles. Photo by Nirav BhatRaptors, also known as birds-of-prey, include eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and sometimes carrion-eaters like vultures and buzzards.

Greater Altai is home to significant nesting populations of large raptors, a number of which are endangered or at-risk globally and regionally – Saker falcon, Eastern imperial eagle, Steppe eagle, Upland buzzard, Greater spotted eagle, Bearded vulture, Eurasian eagle owl, Peregrine falcon, and others. Russia’s 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 Greater 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 and other birds of prey for sale to wealthy Middle Easterners and others using them for sport hunting and willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a single bird has decimated the raptor populations. The birds often die due to mishandling while being smuggled drugged and packed like literal sardines. Improperly installed or absent Bird Protection Devices on transmission lines and utility towers kill significant numbers of birds, despite laws requiring their bird protective devices. Mining, timber harvest, and human disturbance drive birds out of their traditional nesting habitats. Lastly, we are discovering that many new fledged Steppe eagles and other raptors leave Altai to migrate thousands of miles into the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, but fail to return the following spring. They are often shot by herders, poisoned, or trapped for captive falconry programs.

What work does The Altai Project support?Measuring and ringing raptor nestlings
The Altai Project has been collaborating with bird experts in the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (RRRCN) for over a decade and supporting their raptor conservation efforts since 2011. RRRCN experts 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 or tag birds with GPS trackers to permit better tracking of specific individuals during dispersal and migration.

Russian Raptors Research and Conservation Network and shares its data publicly (but at a scale that protects individual birds) in order to crowdsource visual verification of movements and verify distribution and ecological trends they observe. They collect evidence of electrocuted birds or unsecured power lines, working with government agencies to collect fines and ensure power line safety. They also work closely with cellular 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, GPS tracking and data fees, and expedition costs with a donation
  • Join a Wild Altai expedition and learn about raptors first-hand
  • Invite us to talk about our work with a conservation or birding group in your area

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

Steppe eaglet trio (photo by Igor Karyakin)

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