In recent months there have been increasing reports of widespread use of poison impacting wildlife across Africa. Lions and other predators are poisoned in retaliation for depredation on livestock, while the use of poisoned bait to kill elephants has been reported with increasing frequency, both to facilitate poaching and in retaliation for crop-damage. In one recent incident, 400-600 vultures died after feeding on a poisoned elephant carcass in the vicinity of the Bwabwata National Park in Namibia. Last July 65 Cape griffon vultures (Gyps coprotheres) were poisoned by a South African farmer using a chemical called carbofuran. Last month 37 white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) were found poisoned in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, in South Africa.
Now, in the latest incident, 46 cape griffon vultures have been found last week poisoned in the Eastern Cape province, also in South Africa, close to two sheep carcasses – the poisoning incident was detected only because one of the vultures had a tracking device from a project run by our colleagues from Vulpro. Local conservationists suspect that carbofuran was again used.
The spike in vulture poisoning across southern Africa calls for immediate action from government agencies and other stakeholders. Vulture poisoning is becoming worse than during the 1970s and 1980s when such incidents were common environmental crimes. Good conservation work and lobbying brought vulture poisoning down to only a few incidents per year by now the situation is worse than ever.
All vulture species are generally declining in Africa, with poisoning being the biggest threat. The cape griffon vulture is considered Vulnerable at global level, with a declining population trend. Vultures are keystone species that play vital roles in maintaining ecosystem health. Their removal and depletion will have a number of cascading negative ecological effects as well as adverse impacts on human health. For example, the precipitous decline in three vulture species on the Indian sub-continent over the last 20 years has resulted in a number of problems emerging due to the vultures no longer being able to fulfil their role of removing the carcasses of dead animals from the environment. A proliferation of feral dogs and a substantial increase in diseases such as rabies have been documented and can be linked directly to this decline. Similar impacts are anticipated in Africa.
The VCF and its partners have been working on anti-poisoning activities, campaigns and programmes in Europe. Recognizing the extent of the problem in Africa, in April 2014, the VCF is co-organising, together with the Junta de Andalucia, a workshop bringing together key European and African experts on this issue.
For more information on this latest poisoning incident, please contact the Cape Griffon poison information center at firstname.lastname@example.org