Friday, September 9, 2011

Tip of the iceberg

Today it became apparent to me that the poisoning of vultures that we are currently seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. I contacted the Wildlife Department Veterinarian in Maun to find out if there was any information on the type of poison used to kill the vultures recently in the Makgadikgadi area (see blog of 12 August below - One step away from a catastrophe) and he mentioned that even the results from the vulture samples from Sepako had not yet been processed. Sepako? Vultures poisoned at Sepako? This was news to me! Yes, some vultures had been poisoned at Sepako a few months ago. Phone Martin Marumo at the Wildlife Department in Gaborone, he knows about the incident.

Yes, I was on a trip in the area during April when I heard about the incident, but I didn't get an opportunity to investigate it, but why don't you try the Wildlife Office in Sepako?

Good afternoon, Pete Hancock from BirdLife Botswana here, does anybody know anything about some vultures poisoned near Sepako a few months ago?

To cut a long story short, I was fortunate to get hold of Wildlife Officer Kgongwana at Sepako who actually investigated the incident. Five White-backed Vultures were killed on 3/4/11 after feeding on a poisoned skin that had been put out for hyaenas and jackals, although none of these species was killed. Once again, vultures were the innocent victims of poison directed at so-called 'problem' animals.

The five vultures died right next to the poisoned skin, so the poison used muust have been pretty toxic. Near to the carcase was a plastic container with the label METHOMEX. This was new to me, so I read up on METHOMEX, which "is a carbamate insecticide administered as a foliar spray or as a soil treatment for a variety of crops". It is VERY TOXIC, and is even dangerous by contact or inhalation. "A small quantity may be fatal (to a person) if swallowed". It is toxic to fish, bees and wildlife including, as we now know, vultures.

W/O Kgongwana did a thorough job of the investigation and collected some samples from the dead vultures despite the overwhelming evidence from the empty METHOMEX container. A docket has been opened and this incident is under investigation . . .

And so the story goes - we are currently not getting any closer to curtailing the problem, even though it is apparent that it is a much bigger threat than we ever could have envisaged. At this rate, it looks as though we may still be gathering statistics while our magnificent vultures slip into oblivion.
A live White-backed Vulture drying its wings after bathing (Photo P Hancock)

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