Martial Eagle decline

An afternoon storm moved across the Sabi River, pelted the veld and moved northwards. Twenty minutes later it was mostly bright sunshine. Amidst the retreating thunder I could hear the staccato alarm call of some panic-stricken guineafowl. Slowly, we edged forward and around the next bend we found the birds, packed tightly beneath a thorn tree – hiding and calling. This usually means an airborne threat and there it was, perched in a nearby tree was a Martial Eagle. The carcass of a guineafowl clamped beneath its talons. The eagle was relaxed and we viewed and photographed it for some time.

Martial Eagle In Flight

 was thrilled, not only with the sighting, but also because I believed that this magnificent park, the Kruger National Park, was a stronghold for this spectacular bird. I now realise that my thinking may be flawed. Daniel Cloete found that even though there are six times as many Martial Eagles in protected areas, and you are more likely, up to five times more likely, to see one in such an area; they are declining fast. In the time between the two Southern African Bird Atlas Projects, a period of 20 years, the Martial Eagle has declined by 54% within the KNP! The decline within the whole of southern Africa was 59%. The rate of decline is only marginally less within the KNP. How can this be?

Research by van Eeden et al casts some light on this. GPS tags were fitted to 8 adult, KNP Martial Eagles. Six were territorial eagles and held home ranges averaging 108 km2. Two did not hold a territory and ranged more widely 44 000 km2 as floaters. Another two territorial birds abandoned their territories and ranged widely. This abandoning of a territory may indicate underlying problems to breeding such as; insufficient prey; mate loss; low breeding success; and a lack of suitable habitat. These wide-ranging floaters face numerous anthropogenic or man-made hazards. One flew into Swaziland and was probably electrocuted. Two died in Mocambique, one in a snare, the others tag was recovered from a hunting outpost.

Obviously, more research needs to be done, the more we know the more we can help. We need to seek clean energy production and vastly more efficient consumption – we need to stop the temperature rising and the need for powerlines. Protect big trees – Knob Thorns, Senegalia nigrescens are favoured nesting trees for Martial Eagles in the KNP and Camel Thorns, Vacheliia erioloba in the Kalahari. Persuade, cajole, and convince those who hunt these remarkable birds to stop the killing and join the research.

And we need to do it right now!

Camera: Nikon D300, Lens Nikon 600mm f4 lens.

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