A large number of vulture deaths in Europe can be attributed every year to poisoning, arguably the most important threat impacting on vultures today. Figures from Spain are illustrative – data from the Spanish ministry of agriculture show that between the years 2000 and 2010 a total of 40 bearded vultures, 638 black vultures, 348 Egyptian vultures and 2,146 griffon vultures were found poisoned. The recent extinction of the bearded vulture in the Balkan Peninsula was largely due to extensive poisoning campaigns against wolves and jackals.
In the majority of the cases, this is caused by the use of poison baits targeted at terrestrial predators (or feral animals) to protect livestock and game. In the last few years over 70 active substances were found in poisoned baits or animals, many of which are legal (phitosanitary products, biocides, etc.). Often the pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture are the substance used in the baits – the insecticides aldicarb & carbofuranbeing some of the most frequently used in Europe. This makes the fight against poison very difficult since these substances are very easy to obtain, and their use is legal, albeit regulated with strict rules. EU and national regulations regarding the use of these substances are usually very clear – they prohibit their use for poisoned baits.
Poison may also be secondary, including the consumption of inappropriately disposed poisoned animals (e.g. rodents) at rubbish dumps, and consumption of dead livestock treated with veterinary medicines. Analyses from many countries have highlighted high levels of contamination of Vultures. Contaminants include antibiotics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, lead and other heavy metals. The actual impact of these substances on the different species is not clear and specific research is needed. Diclofenac caused the collapse of the vulture populations (incl. Egyptian Vulture) in the Indian subcontinent and other veterinary drugs may have a role in the species’ decline. Lead from gunshots and other heavy metals are known causes of mortality and declined productivity in many carrion-eating raptors. This so called “Ghost poisoning” is poorly studied - an accurate diagnosis at large geographic scale is really needed.
The VCF is active in a number of regions (Spain, Balkans) in the fight against poison. VCF board members have also been giving some technical support to help fight this important threat elsewhere – see poster below for some work in Africa.