The Cape vulture has been declining steadily since at least the 1980s, when it was first categorized as Threatened. Between 1992 and 2007 the species declined by 60-70% in South Africa alone. It was later upgraded to Vulnerable and, in 2015, to Endangered. As of 2013, estimates of total population size assume about 4,700 pairs or 9,400 mature individuals.
The species is considered to be impacted by a large number of threats. A decrease in the amount of large carrion (particularly during nesting), poisoning (targeted or inadvertent), electrocution or collision with cables on electricity pylons (the most common cause of death in ringed birds), loss of foraging habitat, and unsustainable harvesting for traditional uses are thought to be the most important factors. A source of poisoning specific to many vultures, including the Cape vulture, is the drug diclofenac and related compounds, which is used to treat arthritis in cattle, and which leads to kidney failure in vultures who consume carcasses of treated cattle.