The White-backed Vulture is one of eight African vulture species that is on the decline. PHOTO: Richard
The extinction of our vultures (arguably nature’s most important scavengers) would result in dire ecological, economic and human costs. If unchecked, diseases such as rabies, anthrax and the plague would run rampant. It is estimated that between 1993 and 2006, the decline of vultures in India has cost that economy $34 billion, and caused nearly 50 000 human deaths. India has the highest rate of rabies infection in the world, and dog bites are the major contributing factor.
The decimation of vultures in India was inadvertently brought about by livestock carcasses containing an anti-inflammatory drug called Diclofenac. The drug given to sick cattle is fatal to vultures. The current increase in elephant and rhino poaching has led to an increase in vulture mortality. Poachers are poisoning carcasses in order to eliminate vultures and thus avoid detection. Vultures soaring overhead are great indicators of illegal activities.
Poachers are also poisoning carcasses to fuel the demand for animal body parts used in traditional medicine and customs — lion bones, leopard skins and vulture parts to name a few. Traditional healers prescribe “vulture” for improved intelligence and foresight. It is widely believed that vulture muthi will provide clairvoyant powers.
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Poisoning also includes unintentional killing. Vultures will feed on poison-laced carcasses intended for livestock predators. Regardless of the reason, these endangered birds need our help, and fast.
To help address these issues Wildlife Act Fund has initiated community conservation projects around game reserves in Zululand to assist the community in understanding the importance of conservation areas and the need for protecting endangered species.
Educating future generations is integral. Since 2012 over 1 630 children and 130 adults from 25 schools have participated in our four-day bush-camps, and 10 220 adults have been reached in our community conservation awareness presentations.
Wildlife Act Fund has teamed up with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Endangered Wildlife Trust to help conserve the KZN vulture population by forming the Zululand Vulture Project (ZVP). Since its inception, the ZVP has fitted satellite tracking devices to 21 vultures which aid in monitoring their movements and understanding them as a species.
This equipment allows us to monitor home ranges, flight patterns and problem areas.
If you would like to help conserve our vultures there are many areas which need support. The easiest way is to spread the word and tell your friends about the severity of the vulture crisis.
— Wildlife Act.
At least 94 vultures ‘found poisoned and dead in Zimbabwe’
The dead African white-backed vultures were found on Friday around the carcass of an elephant that had been killed for its ivory near to Zimbabwe’s border post with neighbouring Mozambique. One vulture survived.
“It is an area that is quite busy with poaching activity and (game scouts) did a routine surveillance flight over the area and they came across the elephant carcass and the dead birds,” said Andre Botha, the co-chair of a vulture specialist group with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Separate sources have confirmed that the birds were found near the Chiqualaquala border post.
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Vultures are sometimes killed by poachers to stop them from circling and alerting rangers to the scene of a kill.
“It looks as if the poisoning was done intentionally but more to eradicate the birds from the area rather than for belief use or muthi purposes,” Botha, who is based in South Africa, told News24. That was a reference to the fact that vulture body parts are often traded as charms.
The sole surviving vulture has been taken to a rehabilitation facility in Zimbabwe.
Botha said it’s possible that some of the dead birds were nesting as this is the vulture breeding season.
Leading South African-based vulture conservation group Vulpro said in a statement on Facebook that the deaths were “a devastating blow”.
The IUCN has declared most of southern Africa’s vulture species to be either critically endangered or endangered due to human-induced threats.
Vultures play a vital role in the ecosystem, cleaning the veld of carcasses and the diseases that they harbour. Conservationists warn that without vultures, outbreaks of diseases like rabies and anthrax, which affect humans and their livestock, will likely become more common.
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