Eurasian Black Vulture (Cinereous Vulture) Aegypius monachus, Черный гриф, Սև անգղ
Distribution and biological peculiarities in Armenia: This species breeds in Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, north India, northern Pakistan, Mongolia and mainland China, with a small reintroduced population in France. Is monotypic. In Armenia Black Vultures breed only in Khosrov Forest Nature Reserve, occupying mainly juniper woodland in elevation range from 1,000 to about 2,000 m a.s.l. Black Vulture is a year-round resident although it conducts some local movements in winter. This largest raptor of Armenia makes its huge nests (1.5-2 meters across) mainly on Juniper trees. The species forms loos colonies, where the nests can be located as close to each other as 300-500 meters or even closer; however the nests never occur on the same tree. The pair is very conservative to the selected nest, and in absence of disturbance can use the same place for many years. Incubation period begins in late February to March, when female lays down one egg. The nestlings hatch out in April to May, and stay in the nest throughout the hot summer; that is why the adult often protects the nestling from overheating via creating a shade with its open wings. The fledglings leave the nest in late August - early September. In Armenia Black Vultures usually feed on large size carrion. To avoid food competition with other vultures, they find a specialization in feeding on skin and meat; that is why the species has the largest beak among the Armenian Vultures - it helps the bird to tear thick skins of large mammals.
Population dynamics: According to the last estimation, population of the species makes from 11 to 13 breeding pairs; number of non breeding individuals in Armenia is estimated 3-7 per year. Population trend during last ten years demonstrates slight increase, which appears to be a result of supplemental feeding by several conservation organizations. The species is known for its long-distance foraging areas, thus the birds of Khosrov Reserve have been observed flying to Turkey, most probably to search for the food. One of the most dangerous threats of early 2002-s (stealing the nestlings from the nest for further selling) is over. However at current, the breeding and non-breeding individuals are affected by direct persecution for trophy. The shortage of food was a critical issue and apparently affected the population of the species throughout 1980-s to early 2000-s. It caused the major population decline from about 50 pairs down to 7-8. At current, the supplemental food that was coming from slaughter houses is still not available, and although there is a positive dynamic in population of some wild ungulates (the Bezoar Goat), the food supply still appears to be insufficient. Other possible threats come from potential poisoning by (1) heavy metals at municipal dumps, where batteries, mobile phones and other devises are disposed together with the food remains; (2) lead poisoning from the bullets; (3) poisoning by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which come from livestock husbandry. Recently, a new threat emerged - forest fire, which have not been touching Khosrov Reserve in past, happened in 2017 and exterminated over 3,000 hectares of the habitats including juniper woodland. Since the nestlings of the Black Vulture fledge in August (the most dangerous period for fire), the breeding success of entire population might be affected.
Conservation Measures: At current the only breeding sites of the species are protected in Khosrov Forest Nature Reserve, which also has a status of Emerald Site. The species is included in Red Book of Animals of Armenia (2010) as Endangered (EN D) The proposed conservation measures include: (1) review of the policy of punishments for poaching the species and strengthening inspection; (2) increase of network of the citizen scientists, who can advocate against poaching; (3) study of the potential poisoning of the species by heavy metals and NSAIDs; (4) development of sustainable artificial feeding stations; (5) strengthening capacity of Khosrov Reserve with fire early warning and fighting systems; (6) continuous monitoring of the species for reassessment of its conservation status in 2020.