Vultures are declining very fast in Africa, and poisoning is the number one threat. Rates of decline, causes of poisoning and modus operandi differ across the continent – in southern and eastern Africa vultures die after eating carcasses laced with poison to kill carnivores, or are deliberately killed after poachers poison rhino and elephants carcasses so that they do not attract law enforcement agents; in Ethiopia use of strychnine and other poisons to control feral dogs is a problem, while in West Africa vultures are killed deliberately for food or the traditional medicine trade. Whatever the means and the divers, the situation is critical – vultures are declining everywhere, sometimes at a dramatic rate – decreases of up to 90% for some species have been detected. Africa is quickly losing its vultures, and with them an important ecological function is lost – without scavengers, carcasses are left to rotten, disease spreads among herbivores, and sanitation around villages also decreases.
In order to fight this biodiversity and human health crisis, a number of initiatives have recently started across Africa. The VCF and the Junta de Andalucia have also jumped onboard, organizing in April 2014 a workshop on the matter, in a secluded estate in the serranias the Ronda, gathering 20 European and African vulture & poison experts from 6 different African countries and from Spain, the Balkans and the USA.
Wildlife poisoning is also a widespread illegal activity in Europe, but some countries and/or regions have developed effective strategies and action plans to minimize their effects. The Junta de Andalucia has been implementing their anti-poisoning campaign since 2004, and has made huge progress in fighting this threat – its programme is considered one of the best anywhere in the world.
During the workshop African and Spanish experts have characterized the drivers and scope of vulture poisoning in the different regions, discussed the essential steps towards fighting this threat, identified a number of steps, and learnt from each other. Crucially, the workshop gathered field biologists and chemistry experts, forensic specialists and police, thus covering the different disciplines involved in fighting poison. Demonstrations and practical sessions on identification and investigation of poison cases, lab sessions and post-mortems were also performed. The meeting resulted in a number of important conclusions and next steps – see below.
Above all, the workshop fostered professional contacts, and identified a number of tangible collaboration opportunities. The workshop motto and approach was indeed one of a TEAM: Together Everybody Achieves More. For African and European vultures!