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Red-headed Vulture

Sarcogyps calvus


The exact purpose of the striking bald head of a Vulture has long been assumed to be a form of protection from infection; as they put their whole heads into carcasses.

This fed into their negative image as bloodthirsty scavengers – but it may actually play an important role in thermoregulation. The red-headed vulture is one of the few species of large vulture that does not live in large groups, usually found alone or in a breeding pair. With its wingspan of over two metres the red-headed vulture carries out impressive courtship displays including dramatic cartwheeling by both the male and female. Like most vultures their diet consists of carrion and they have been observed feeding on the carcasses of large ungulates, birds, turtles and fish. Red-headed vultures have been found in a variety of habitats from savannah to deciduous forest up to an altitude of 2,000m. The species has experienced a dramatic decline in both population size and distribution. In India it has been estimated that the population decreased by over 90% in just 10 years. This decline has been primarily blamed on the use of the drug Diclofenac by veterinarians. The red-headed vulture is the sole member of its genus Sarcogyps, and diverged around 10-11 million years ago.

  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Population: 3,500-15,000
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 76-86cm
  • Weight: 3.5-6.3kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.32 (?)
ED Score: 11.82 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


This species it now found in low numbers across India except in the western Himalayan foothills where it is common. It was previously widespread in Southeast Asia however it is now believed to be primarily restricted to northern and eastern plains of Cambodia and considered nearly extinct in Thailand.

Habitat and Ecology

This species’ are regularly found in open country away from humans, wooded hills, thorn forest of semi-arid zones, semi-deserts and dry deciduous forests with rivers. They usually occupy areas below 2,500m in altitude. Like most vultures their diet consists of carrion and they have been observed feeding on the carcasses of large ungulates, birds, turtles and fish. They tend to build large, flat nests at the tops of tall trees

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Crops Hunting Ecosystem changes Agriculture

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
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