The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), together with a number of other conservation organizations, had alerted recently that the increasing and mostly illegal use of poison is decimating African vulture populations, precipitating a biodiversity crisis with as yet uncharted human health consequences – see the statement below, which resulted from a recent meeting on this issue.
The latest incident reported on this unfolding situation came recently from Botswana, when at least 92 vultures were found dead last month near a buffalo carcass.
The episode was only found because one of the vultures was being followed through a GPS satellite transmitter by Raptors Botswana and its signal remained stationary for several days.
A team from Raptors Botswana then managed to visit the site on May 24th by using a helicopter from the Botswana Defence Force, as the site was inaccessible by land due to high water levels. It then became evident that a buffalo carcass was the source of the poisoning. The animal had been poached for meat, as both shoulders and one leg of had been removed, and some remains of a wildebeest were also seen nearby. The dead vultures included 85 white-backed (Gyps africanus), 6 hooded vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) and 1 lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus). Probably the death toll was higher, as only a small area was searched – the tagged hooded vulture was not found, for example.
In several regions of southern Africa a new and worrying trend has been emerging recently, with killing vultures directly so that their conspicuous presence does not attract the attention of law enforcement agents. This is causing a critical biodiversity crisis – vultures are declining across the African continent, largely at a dramatic rate - decreases of 50-60% have been registered in parts of southern Africa. This region is quickly losing its vultures, and with them the critical and highly efficient ecosystem services they provide.
We thank Raptors Botswana for this report, and their efforts to conserve the vultures. All photos by James Bradley (Raptors Botswana).