African vultures vanishing

African vultures, whose population is decreasing. Pic: Lowvelder

African vultures, whose population is decreasing. Pic: Lowvelder

The decline of vulture populations nationally and globally is reaching critical proportions.

This is according to an international team of researchers, who suggest African vultures are likely to qualify as “critically endangered” under the global threat criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Lowvelder reported.

The manager of Birds of Prey at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, André Botha, said the decline of African vultures was a disaster because of their immense ecological importance. “Vultures are a vital component of a healthy environment, especially in Africa, where ‘free’ ecosystem services such as disposal of carcasses and other waste products remain the norm.”

In the past two months there have been colonies of vultures poisoned in various places. According to Botha, poisoning is responsible for 61% of the birds’ fatalities. The recent death toll recently is nearly 80, and only two white-backed vultures survived.

“The origin of the poisoning seems to be multifaceted and either primary or secondary, “said Gerhard Verdoorn of the Griffon Poison Information Centre.

A primary poisoning method is farmers using chemicals to protect crops and small farm animals from vultures.

Verdoorn, who is against the method, said: “It is against the law for farmers to use chemical poisoning to contain predators. It not only kills scarce and endangered wildlife, but it is a serious accusation against farmers. Their property should be confiscated if they cannot deal with the difficulties and challenges of farming.”

A secondary case of poisoning is other scavengers that have been poisoned and then eaten by vultures.

Both Botha and Verdoorn agree that the trade in vulture parts for traditional medicine is particularly widespread in parts of South Africa but a bigger challenge in other countries in Africa, particularly in West Africa, where vultures are openly traded in large markets in Nigeria and Benin.

“As vultures remove large amounts of pathogen-infested meat and other waste products each day, they limit the spread of disease in both rural and urban areas. The trade of vultures for traditional medicine may in fact enhance the spread of disease,” said Botha. “Traditional healers would normally cut off feet and heads after the birds had been poisoned.”

As slow breeders with a long life span, vultures take several years to reach maturity, and typically fledge only a single offspring every one to two years.

Data showed Africa’s vultures have declined at rates of between 70 % and 97% over three generations, the period used by the IUCN when assessing a species’ threat status.

Caxton News Service


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