Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vulture massacre

A few of the 50 poisoned White-backed Vultures (Photo: G Reed)

The wildlife and conservation community in northern Botswana has been appalled by the recent poisoning by poachers of over 50 globally threatened vultures in the Xudum Concession – one of the most serious wildlife poisoning incidents on record. The White-backed and Hooded Vultures, together with Yellow-billed Kites, were found dead at two giraffe carcases that had been laced with poison. The debacle was discovered by Grant Reed from Letaka Safaris while out on a foot patrol in the area. “We were investigating a column of vultures spiralling in the sky, and were expecting to find a lion kill – instead we were confronted by the depressing and nauseating sight of large numbers of dead and dying vultures and other raptors. They had been feeding on the carcases of two giraffe, killed illegally by poachers operating in the area, and sprinkled with poison. It appears as though the poachers are deliberately aiming to eliminate every vulture in the area, since the birds are quickly alerting the concessionaires to the occurrence of their poaching activities” he surmised.

Hooded Vultures were also killed (Photo: G Reed)

The incident was reported to BirdLife Botswana and the DWNP Anti-poaching Unit, and although the poachers escaped, sufficient evidence was gathered to identify the culprits. An empty poison container was found, and the poison was identified as Carbofuran by Dr Peter Apps of the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust. Carbofuran is a highly toxic agricultural insecticide meant for use on non-food crops; it is not registered for use on animals, and it is unlikely that it has any legitimate use in northern Botswana.

“We are very concerned by the escalating indiscriminate use of poisons for killing vultures, as this has decimated their numbers throughout Africa, and is the single greatest threat facing all vulture and raptor species here in Botswana” said Pete Hancock, BirdLife Botswana’s Conservation Officer in Maun. “We are embarking on an awareness raising programme to address this issue, and will also be working for legislation to restrict the availability and use of poisons such as Temik which is highly toxic and a threat to our environment and human well-being” he said.

The perpetrators, when brought to book, will face serious consequences – vultures and the giraffes that were used to kill them are Protected Game Animals in Botswana and the penalty for killing one of them is P10,000.00 and 10 years imprisonment. However, it is a long road between the commission of a crime and final conviction – BirdLife Botswana and other stakeholders will be monitoring the case with interest.

The mortal remains of over 50 poisoned vultures go up in smoke (Photo: G Reed)