BirdLife calls for Urgent High-level Support for African Vultures

Vulture populations are in many cases poisoned when eating large animal carcasses (like the one above) that have been poisoned. © BirdLife Botswana

By BirdLife Botswana

BirdLife International is unequivocally condemning the recent poisoning of 537 highly endangered vultures by elephant poachers in the Central District of Botswana. This devastating incident has resulted in the country’s highest recorded death toll of vultures associated with a single poisoning incident and is one of the worst killings of vultures on the continent, rivaling a similar incident in the Caprivi area of Namibia in 2013, where between 400-600 vultures were killed.

Although the Botswana government appears to be stepping up its anti-poaching initiatives, catastrophic vulture mortality continues to occur because of poisoning by poachers. Poachers poison vultures to stop them circling above carcasses — thus signaling their illegal activity. Targeted and non-targeted poisoning of vultures is escalating at an alarming rate across the continent, with a high number of incidents focused on southern Africa.

These incidences are devastating,” says Motshereganyi Virat Kootsositse, BirdLife Botswana’s Executive Director. “Agrochemicals used illegally to poison vultures should be banned, and the use of safer alternatives encouraged. Although legislation is in place to manage agrochemicals in Botswana, enforcement is lacking, resulting in widespread misuse. The government should up its efforts to revise and enforce legislation and increase public awareness of the use of hazardous chemicals.”

Vultures are invaluable as a species due to the incredible public health services they provide. By eating rotting carcasses, they prevent the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis, rabies and anthrax. BirdLife Botswana works tirelessly to tackle vulture poisoning in the country. In collaboration with other BirdLife partners and organisations in the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) region, they are working to address increasing elephant poaching; the main threat to the region’s declining vulture populations. Improving cross border collaboration, enforcement and building capacity for wildlife crime prosecution and improving the availability of information are crucial to these efforts.

However, illegal poisoning is something that community support systems, education and awareness alone may not be able to combat. The government needs to use legislative action to help save vultures and wildlife in Botswana, and across the KAZA region.

“If such catastrophic episodes continue to occur across Africa, we may lose the race to save these iconic and vitally important species,” says Beckie Garbett from the BirdLife International Africa Partnership Secretariat. “Vultures are currently not receiving the global conservation support and recognition that many other highly threatened species are, which puts them on a back foot in terms of conservation organisations having the capacity to halt and reverse their declines.”

BirdLife International calls upon the Botswana government and other key influential stakeholders to pay attention to the desperate plight of African vultures at relevant international policy forums. With the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) meeting due to take place in August this year, international Governments of CITES member states have the opportunity to pass relevant policy decisions that will help to address the plight of vultures and other wildlife species.

Only through high-level driven actions will African vultures get the attention and protection that they deserve from sentinel poisoning. It is the duty of those with the power to make a change, to stand up and make themselves heard on behalf of all wildlife species impacted by illegal activities in Africa.

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