Southern Africa – Namibia: 500 Birds found Poisoned

THE discovery of about 500 poisoned carrion birds’ (which include other species besides vultures) carcasses in the Caprivi (now renamed Zambezi) this past weekend is considered by expert conservationists as one of the worst cases in the history of Southern Africa.

The birds died after feeding on a poached elephant laced with poison – a common practice used by poachers to escape detection.

What makes this case one of the worse, is that the consequences could result in far reaching consequences than just the dead birds on the ground.

The poisoning will most likely also have affected bird populations from neighbouring countries as well as the ‘surviving’ offspring and partners of the dead birds because it is the vultures’ breeding season.

A massive ‘rescue mission’ was launched yesterday by the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) to try and find as many vulture chicks as possible in an attempt to save them. The mission was considered by some as trying to find a needle in a haystack because of the lack of data and co-ordination of vultures in Caprivi as compared to elsewhere in Namibia.

Another problem is that most of the carcasses were burnt out.

Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) park wardens have been fingered for trying to dispose of the carcasses to destroy the poison the poachers used to kill the birds.

Attempts to get a comment from the ministry were also unsuccessful because officials were either out of the country or at meetings.

The carcasses of the birds were already decomposed and affected by weather conditions and insects indicating that the actual poisoning could have happened about a month ago. It was not possible to get samples for testing what poisons were used because the discovery was only made a few days ago.

There is an argument presented by some people that because of the vultures’ state of decomposition, the wardens’ decision to burn the carcasses and avoid further poisoning was well thought – although even that is considered too late.

According to vulture activist Peter Bridgeford, the vultures were deliberately poisoned by elephant poachers, who spread the poison onto the carcasses of one or two poached elephants in the Bwabwata National Park in the north-east of Namibia. The incident is reported to have taken place this past weekend.

What has further infuriated conservationists and vulture specialists in particular, is that the killed vultures were not properly identified, counted or inspected for rings before they were burnt by officials from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

“If one rhino is poached, no expense would be spared to bring the perpetrator to justice, but possibly 600 vultures are illegally killed and it hardly causes a ripple,” Bridgeford fumed.

The high numbers of vultures that were killed come a little more than a year after a similiar number of vultures, around 300, were killed by poachers. That incident took place in the Caprivi in May 2012.

It is said that poachers poison vultures as these birds who flock to carcasses can alert officials of the poaching activities.

According to experts, vultures are facing an unsure future as a result of a number of factors. These include poisoning, habitat destruction, fatal collisions with power lines, drownings in steep sided farm reservoirs and the use of the bird in traditional medicines. This incident has been a massive blow for vulture conservation efforts and populations in Namibia.

In response to the tragedy, Maria Diekmann of the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) today said that she is eagre to step in and assist where possible. Diekmann noted today that there is serious concern that several vulture chicks could be sitting high and dry without their parents, who might have been killed.

“We believe the poison was in such heavy doses that any adults that landed will be dead. But this is breeding season and there could be chicks still alive in the nests”. She and colleagues have undertaken to scout the area close to the poisoning to rescue and document where possible.

Comments are closed.