Lappet-faced Vulture an endangered species in Africa

The Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) is a huge, bulky Old World Vulture of the Torgos genus and a native species of Africa. Depending on the author, this vulture can also be classified under the Aegypius genus, thereby acknowledging its relationship with the Monk Vulture. This vulture is also know under the synonyms African Black Vulture, King Vulture and Nubian Vulture.

The Lappet-faced Vulture is mainly Afrotropical and only marginally breeds (as a extremely rare species) in the Palearctic. Its Palearctic distribution is mostly concentrated to the Atlas mountains (Algeria, Morocco), southern Tunis, Arabia (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates) and Israel. Though in northern Africa this species has become almost extinct in most of its former breeding ranges. In the Afrotropical region it is distributed from south of the sub-Saharan zone southwards, in East Africa and further to Southern Africa.

This vulture might be confused with the smaller Hooded Vulture and the Monk Vulture.

old world vulture in africalappet-faced vulture landing - source ecopic agency istock Torgos tracheliotus
Old World Vulture in Africa: Lappet-faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotus) landing – source: EcoPic/agency iStock

Subspecies of the Lappet-faced Vulture

There are three known subspecies existing in the African distribution area:

  • Torgos trachelitos tracheliotus – nominal form living throughout Africa
  • Torgos t. negevensis – South Israel
  • Torgost. nubicus – Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Arabian Peninsula

Conservation Status of the Lappet-faced Vulture

Although the Lappet-faced Vulture is widely distributed throughout the African continent, the current situation is less than satisfactory. While distribution is patchy in most areas, unfortunately this bird has disappeared from most of its former breeding ranges.

Like other vulture species, the Lappet-faced Vulture is suffering from poisoning, human persecution, loss of habitat, hunting, reduced food supplies and also by feral dogs. Like the other African vulture species, changes in livestock management and also higher hygiene standards in farming and in abattoirs (slaugtherhouses) mean less food for vultures. So nothing is well.

During the last ten year the Lappet-faced Vulture faced a severe decline in population numbers, similar to the situation in India. Since 2015 the Lappet-faced Vulture had its population status changed to endangered. In north Africa nearly all populations are now extinct. Populations are facing radical decline in numbers in the Sahel zone and in all other African breeding ranges across the continent. Obviously, the small population on the Arabian Peninsula is stable, at least for now.

Characteristics of the Lappet-faced Vulture


Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Trigonoceps
Species: White-headedd Vulture

Scientific Name: Trigonoceps occipitalis

Names and Synonyms of the Lappet-faced Vulture

German: Wollkopfgeier
English: African Black Vulture, King Vulture, Nubian Vulture
French: Vautour à tête blanche
Dutch: Witkopgier
Spanish: Buitre Cabeciblanco
Portuguese: Abutre-de-cabeça-branca
Italian: Aavviltoio testabianca
Finnish: Kirjokorppikotka
Danish: Hvidhovedet Grib
Swedish: Vithuvad gam
Polish: Sęp białogłowy
Russian: Африканский белогорлый гриф
Afrikaans: Witkopaasvoël
Swahili: Tumbusi Kichwa-cheupe
Hebrew: נשרון לבן-ראש, עזנית הציצית
Turkey: Ak başlı akbaba, Az başlı akbaba
Swazi: Lingce
Kwangali: Ekuvi

Distribution – Movements & Habitat

Distribution: Afrotropical. Used to be endemic to sub-saharan Africa: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bisseau, from southern Mali, Upper Volta, northern Ivory Coast eastwards to southern Sudan, Ethiopia, western Somalia, south through East Africa to Zimbabwe, southern Angola, northern Namibia, Botswana, eastern parts of South Africa and Swaziland.

Movements: Mostly nomadic movements from immatures.

Habitat: Savannah, thornbush, lightly wooded grassland, forages also on open countryside and semi-desert areas; sea-levels of up to 4,000 m.


Solitary, breeding als single pair. No more than 8 individuals at carcases. Search flights to detect useful carcases. After detecting a carcas the vulture glides down and firstly perches on next tree. They love to feed on carcases without any company of other vultures. When feeding they take a chunk off the carcass and than walk to the side to consume.

Field Characteristics of the Lappet-faced Vulture

Large Vulture, blackish above. Head pink to red with cheeks more bluish; blushing scarlet when exited. Brown ruff fronted by white down. Thick white downs below with black breast. Primaries and secondaries dark.

Bill: yellowish
Cere: pale blue to grey
Feet: pale blue to grey

Measurements & Voice

Size: 72-82 cm
Tail: 27-30 cm
Weight: 3,300-5,300 g
Wingspan: 207-223 cm
♂: 582 mm
♀: 600-612 mm

Voice: mostly silent, utters squeaks, hisses and grunts.


Sexually mature: Probably not before 3rd to 4th year but mainly from 5th to 6th year.

Mating: Monogamous breeding pair, lifelong pair; mating coincides with nest building.

Clutches per breeding season1 clutch

Breeding: depends on geographical region, in general December to September, mostly February to March: Sudan from November to December, Somalia from Oktober, Kenya from July, Tanzania (Usambara-mountains) from June, Zimbabwe from August, South Africa from May.

Nest: Mostly large platform made from sticks measuring 80-170 cm across and 20-60 cm deep. Often conspicuously in crown of high trees. Lined with grass. Colonial, nest in the top of thorny trees but also in steep cliffs. In mountaneous areas nests are also built in niches and crevaces of steep rock faces.

Clutch: 1 egg

Egg: elliptical whit egg and brown stains.

Egg Measurements and Weights
Length x Width: 82.0×65.0 mm
Weight: ≈ ??? g

Recurrent clutches: no data recorded.

Incubation: ≃ 43-54 Tage, both parents share the task of incubating.

Fledging: Chicken is fed by both parents. Fledging after c. 110-120 (max 135) days.

Dependency: Most probably the young White-headed Vulture is cared for by the parents for a longer period that could last up to one year; though, there are no firm data available.

lappet-faced vulture flying before landing in a game reserve in kwa zulu natal in south africa - source: henk bogaard/agency iStock
Lappet-faced Vulture flying before landing in a Game Reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal in South Africa – source: Henk Bogaard/agency iStock


Food: The Lappet-faced Vulture mainly depends on the abundance of mostly large carcases. Also lifes of freshly cut Flamingos, small mammals, lizzards, dead fish being washed up; termites, locusts if available. From carcases everything is processed except for the skin.

Longevity: up to 30 years.

Mortality: unknown.

Threats: Loss of habitat because of changes introduced in how agricultural and forestal areas are being managed. Targeted poisoning by laying out poisoned carcases.


Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 1+2, Sonderausgabe 2012, Aula Verlag, Wiebelsheim

Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 3, Literatur und Anhang, Aula Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage 1993

Baumgart, Wolfgang, Europas Geier, Flugriesen im Aufwind, AULA-Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2001

Bezzel, Einhard, Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Non-Passeriformes, Band 1, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985

Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston New York, 2001
Ferguson-Lees, James and Christie, David A., Raptors of the World, A Field Guide, Christopher Helm London, 2005, reprinted 2019

Israel tags its first Lappet-faced Vulture (2010) klick here.
Lappet-faced Vulture spotted in Israel – Times of Israel article dd May 26, 2021
Lappet-faced Vultures in the Mahazat as-Sayd Protected Area / Saudia Arabia

Image Credits

Featured Image of the Lappet-faced Vulture – source: marion_smith/agency iStock
Post image Lappet-faced Vulture landing – source: Eco-Pic/agency iStock
Post image Lappet-faced Vulture flying before landing in a Game Resort – source: Henk Bogaard/agency iStock

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Published by Raymond Loyal Photography

Bird, Nature, Art and Architecture Photographer, Traveller, Blogger.

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