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Birdlife South Africa weighs in on vulture poisoning

In Botswana, a total of 537 vultures were poisoned while 28 succumbed to poisoning in Zululand.

POACHERS are suspected to be linked to the deaths of vultures found poisoned in Botswana and Zululand recently.  Birdlife South Africa, an organisation that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity said the grizzly discovery comes during the vulture’s breeding season, resulting in untold losses as chicks left without their parents were likely to die of starvation or exposure.

Linda van den Heever, Vulture Project Manager at Birdlife South Africa said poisoning is linked to poaching in some cases.

“Intentional poisoning is linked to poaching. Poachers don’t want the vultures to circle above their kill as it alerts rangers and it takes quite a while to remove a tusk from an elephant carcass, so they are painting poison onto the kill so that when the vultures come down and eat the meat, they die,” she said. 

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Poison is the greatest threat to vultures, with unintentional poisoning presenting an additional concern.

“We are working to change the Zululand Important Bird and Biodiversity Area into a Vulture Safe Zone. The biggest threat to vultures is poison. There are various ways the vultures are poisoned. One is through lead ammunition that hunters or farmers use to kill  or cull animals. Fragments of the lead bullets are lodged into the animal and the vultures then feed on it and eat the lead fragments. This is usually unintentional poisoning, and farmers usually have good intentions, thinking they are leaving the animal there for the vultures to feed off,” she said.

In Botswana a total of 537 vultures including 10 cape vultures, 14 lappet faced vultures, 468 white backed vultures, 17 white headed vultures and 28 hooded vultures as well as two tawny eagles were found poisoned. On 20 June, The Republic of Botswana issued a press release concerning the find in a Wildlife Management Area CT 1 in the Central District.

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“The poisoning was believed to have been caused by lacing of three poached elephant carcasses with a poisonous chemical which lead to significant mortality in vultures and eagles. The law enforcement team attending the scene is working around the clock to decontaminate the area. Sampling of carcasses and the environment was done for further laboratory analysis,” read the statement.

For more information, email linda.vdheever@birdlife.org.za.

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