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1 May 2009 Status, Ecology, and Conservation of the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis (Aves, Accipitridae) in the Tibetan Plateau
Xin Lu, Dianhua Ke, Xianhai Zeng, Guohong Gong, Ren Ci
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The dramatic population crashes of 3 species of Gyps vulture have raised concerns about the status of their lesser-known congeners. Among these is the Himalayan griffon, G. himalayensis, an iconic vulture of the Tibetan plateau. The continued existence of this scavenger has not only ecological but also cultural implications because of their unique role in the centuries-old sky burial tradition that is followed by nearly 5 million Tibetan people. A lack of baseline information of the Himalayan griffon limits our ability to take conservation measures. The presented data, which were collected during 1996 and 2004 to 2007, indicate that this species is still widespread throughout the plateau and has not experienced a major population decline, likely as a result of protection by Tibetan Buddhism and limited disturbances from human activities largely due to the remoteness of the plateau. Both site and road counts showed that open meadow habitats had the highest griffon abundance, followed by alpine shrub and forest habitats. Estimates based on road transect counts showed that 229 339 Himalayan griffons (± 40 447) occupy the 2.5 million km2 Tibetan plateau. In contrast, the maximum carrying capacity of the plateau, on the basis of the total biomass of potential food resources, is 507 996 griffons, with meadow habitats accounting for about 76% of the total population. Griffons depend largely on livestock carcasses for food and forage in groups averaging 5.5 (range 1–100) individuals. Domestic yaks provide about 64% of the griffons' diet, while wild ungulates and human corpses provide 1% and 2%, respectively. Compared with its lowland congeners, this, the only high-elevation Gyps species, had both low population density and small group size, a likely response to the harsh environmental conditions. Although griffon abundance appears relatively stable in their fairly pristine environment, precautionary measures, including investigation of threats, monitoring of population dynamics, and establishment of modern conservation consciousness among Tibetan Buddhists, should be carried out to ensure that this abundance continues.

Xin Lu, Dianhua Ke, Xianhai Zeng, Guohong Gong, and Ren Ci "Status, Ecology, and Conservation of the Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis (Aves, Accipitridae) in the Tibetan Plateau," AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 38(3), 166-173, (1 May 2009).
Received: 17 May 2007; Accepted: 1 May 2008; Published: 1 May 2009

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