This map tracks the locations of seven vultures from May 15 to July 25, 2016. The vultures, tagged by Boise State researchers in Gorongosa, can be known to travel upwards of 100 miles in a single day.
At more than 1,500 square miles, Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique offers plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning. In the spring of 2016, Boise State researcher Greg Kaltenecker, executive director of the Intermountain Bird Observatory, and Marc Bechard, director of the Boise State Raptor Research Center, traveled there to address what is considered the most pressing raptor crisis of our time.
“Four species of vultures are critically endangered,” Kaltenecker said. “There’s been a more than 90 percent decline in their numbers in recent years.”
Why have the populations decreased so dramatically? Kaltenecker said the majority are being killed by poachers.
“When these poachers kill something like an elephant or a rhino, vultures will appear overhead, giving them away to authorities,” said Kaltenecker.
Over the last several years, poachers have dealt with this by poisoning meat and leaving it out for vultures to eat, which has nearly rendered them extinct.
“It’s important for Boise State, home of the Raptor Research Center and the only master’s program in raptor biology, to study what is happening, and we can use the knowledge we gathered in Gorongosa and apply it here in Idaho,” said Kaltenecker.
Within the confines of Gorongosa National Park the birds are well protected, but a kettle of vultures can be known to fly more than 100 miles in a single day. The team from Boise State captured seven vultures within the park and attached GPS transmitters that send information back to campus, allowing them to study and track the birds.
The transmitters, which are very expensive, were donated by environmental and statistical consulting firm Western Ecosystems Technology Inc. Boise State alumnus Eric Hallingstad, wildlife biologist for Western Ecosystems Technology, joined Kaltenecker and Bechard in Gorongosa.
Boise State became involved with Gorongosa National Park thanks to humanitarian and Idaho native Greg Carr. Carr is president of the Gorongosa Restoration Project. In 2015, he signed an agreement with the university to further faculty and student research opportunities in Gorongosa, and is helping to fund that research, saying he would like Boise State to be the largest university presence in the park.
“She will be able to use these skills upon returning to Gorongosa to conduct bird monitoring there on various projects that we have started, including vulture research and monitoring, raptor surveys, monitoring of songbirds and waterbirds, training of park rangers and guides, etc. She’ll also help contribute to local community education when she returns,” said Kaltenecker.