The Namibian Sun
July 24, 2019
A brief reprieve from a deadly poison-laced assault on scavengers and
predators by small-stock farmers in Namibia and the rest of southern Africa
over the past few decades has given way to a renewed and catastrophic
attack by commercial poachers.
An estimated 10,000 vultures have been poisoned across the region in the
past five years, of which 6,000 were killed in Namibia and adjacent parts
of Botswana, as a result of poachers poisoning elephant carcasses they had
illegally killed for ivory.
In June alone, more than 700 vultures of five species, in addition to other
wildlife, were killed by poison in five southern and east African
countries. As a result the Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE) this month
joined several local and regional organisations to submit an urgent plea to
the African Union (AU), urging for cross-border efforts to address the
threat. ?It cannot effectively be addressed by a single nation. A
continent-wide initiative is needed,? NCE CEO Chris Brown informed members
The submission, addressed to AU chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, calls on
the AU secretary-general and member stakes to undertake several urgent
steps and collaborate among each other to tackle the crisis head-on.
The signatories to the letter, including the IUCN SSC Vulture Specialist
Group, Birdlife International, the Zambia Lion Project, Birdlife Botswana,
Aplori Nigeria, and many others, also warn that vultures are not the only
wildlife species threatened by the use of poison.
Nevertheless, of the five vulture species most impacted, three of them are
currently listed as critically endangered, while the remaining two are
listed as endangered.
The AU submission explains poison is also used to respond to human-wildlife
conflict, but that the masking of commercial poaching activities currently
?poses the largest and most immediate threat to vultures?.
The experts warn that populations of these slow-breeding species, which are
also subject to a range of other threats, ?cannot sustain losses of this
scale and thus face a significant threat of extinction?.
?Wildlife poisoning has long been the major cause of mortality for many
species of scavengers and predators, perhaps best-documented in vultures
and eagles,? Brown underlined.
However, previously the main source of poisoning stemmed from mainly
small-stock farmers who ?waged an ongoing battle against predators such as
jackal, caracal, leopard and hyena?.
Studies showed that for every member of a target species killed by a
farmer’s poison – not necessarily the individual animal that was guilty of
a killing, just a member of the species – over 100 non-target animals were
killed in Namibia, mainly eagles and vultures, but also many other species,
including bat-eared foxes, Cape foxes, aardwolf and mongooses.
?In fact, anything that eats meat,? the NCE said.
Brown said this ?scorched earth approach to farming?, which was allowed to
continue for decades, had a deadly impact on many species and particularly
on the distribution of vulture species.
With the decline in small-stock farming in many parts of Namibia in recent
years, and the conversion of land uses to wildlife and tourism, a hopeful,
but ?slow modest increase in vulture numbers? was observed.
This slight gain, however, has in recent years been pushed back again with
the increased poisoning of carcasses by poachers.
“This is an Africa-wide crisis, but with the main impacts in southern and
east Africa, which have the most remaining wildlife areas,” the NCE warned.
Brown stressed that it is time African countries to pay attention to this
issue and work together to address the problem.
“Commercial poaching is a cross-boundary and internationally-driven crime,
often linked to other syndicate crimes such as drugs, arms, human
trafficking and money laundering.”