Raptors or “birds of prey” are crucial to sustaining the ecosystem of Africa. Learn about these incredible creatures and why we need to protect them!
When I hear the term Raptor, the 90’s kid in me immediately thinks of the cunning, vicious, and all around terrifying dinosaurs that spent 2 hours and 7 minutes hunting Dr. Grant and his crew in Jurassic Park. Though those raptors haven’t been around for about 80 million years, their ancestors still exist, as raptors or “birds of prey” can be seen patrolling the skies over the African Savannah and are just as complex and incredible in their own unique ways.
Like their ancient relatives, modern raptors are masterful hunters, often with talons and sharp beaks to allow them to swoop down on defenseless prey.
The Lanner Falcon, a raptor that lives on cliff sides and in mountainous regions, uses long, powerful talons to grab its prey and carry it off into the sky. It has a notch on its beak called the “tomial tooth” which is uses to kill the prey quickly by stabbing through its vertebrae so that it does not struggle in flight. The falcon uses this technique to catch small birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Though many raptors have similar hunting techniques to the Lanner Falcon, there is great diversity among the birds of prey, and many have very distinct characteristics. The Secretary Bird is the only African Raptor who actually walks more than it flies, and can walk up to 20 miles in a day! The bird can be over 4 feet tall with long, dangly legs. But don’t be fooled by their goofy appearance, these birds are magnificent hunters. They roam the plains and bushy areas and will run and spread their wings to scare their prey out of hiding.
They attack their prey both on the run and through the air, and use both methods in and snatching up their victims with their talons. The secretary birds use this creative method to hunt a variety of snakes as well as small mammals and small birds on the plains of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Raptors play an important role in the African ecosystem, as they are mostly Secondary Predators on the food chain. The food chain has 5 levels, and is more of a cycle than a chain in the sense that each level contributes to the survival of the other levels. The levels go as follows:
Plants- Get their energy from the sun. This energy is passed up the chain as they are eaten by herbivores. Also use the CO2 produced by animals to convert into Oxygen to release into the air
Herbivores- Consume plants, energy continues to move up the chain.
Primary Predators- Smaller predators, get their energy from consuming herbivores
Secondary Predators- Larger predators, get their energy from consuming Primary Predators
Decomposers- Break down dead animals and waste products and convert into elements which provide energy for the growth of plants. Examples of these are bacteria, worms, and fungi. The Decomposers restart the cycle and recycle the energy to restart the food chain.
The food chain is a very delicate foundation of sustaining an ecosystem. When one level is harmed, the whole chain will break because each level is dependent on the other levels to sustain life. Without raptors, the common prey would overpopulate, resulting in overeating of the plants. The significant loss in plant life would cause the entire chain to be cut off at the source, and the energy that plants pass through the chain would be lost. All of the following levels would collapse as a result of the loss of energy available within the chain, and the once perfect ecosystem would implode.
Raptors are threatened by people in various ways. Loss of habitat, collisions with power lines, hunting for sport, and the illegal trading of eggs pose a threat to all raptors, as many of them are declining in population and being displaced from their habitats. Additionally, there are also raptors being poisoned! Though this sounds like a twist in a cheesy murder novel, the sad truth is that it has become very common for people poison and kill raptors.
The Bateleur, a wide winged eagle in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been a common victim of poisoning by farmers. The bateleur is a hunter who also scavenges on carcasses, and farmers will actually lace the carcasses of their dead livestock with poison in an attempt to kill off scavenging birds as well as hyenas and jackals. The Bateleurs are listed as “threatened” due almost entirely to human influence, and if the African people aren’t educated on their importance to the environment, they may in time become endangered. We must work to help educate people on the importance of these magnificent birds and make efforts to stop the destruction of land and the meaningless killing of these creatures.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Michael Hogan
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