Two recent poisoning incidents killed hundreds of vultures in South Africa and India – contributing even more to the dramatic plight of Asian and African vultures. Last weekend rangers in the world famous Kruger national Park – one of the most heavily-guarded in Africa – have found 110 critically-endangered white-backed vultures together with two lions and two jackals, around a poisoned carcass of an elephant that had been killed by poachers. It is well known that in Africa poachers looking for ivory are now using potent poisons to kill vultures that descend on the corpses of the animals they kill, to avoid being detected by enforcement agencies, that often spot concentrations of avian scavengers to investigate potential poaching incidents.
Rangers acted swiftly and disposed of all the corpses, because otherwise the death toll could have been much higher – with more scavengers feeding on the poisoned remains. But this level of mortality is significant and may have population level effects on the regional colonies of white-backed vultures in the greater Lowveld region.
The plight of African vultures has reached the international conservation agenda, with several species declining rapidly, up to the point that the IUCN decided recently todowngrade the conservations status of 6 species, including 4 that became critically endangered, among which the African white-backed vulture.
The same story happened some weeks ago in Sivsagar, Assam India, where the carcass of a cow, laced with poison presumably to kill stray dogs, also caused the death of at least 55 vultures, including 22 critically endangered Asian white-backed vultures, 4 critically endangered Slender-billed Vulture, and at least 29 Himalayan Griffon Vultures.
Vultures in India have still not recovered from the almost-total collapse of their populations caused by veterinary diclofenac, which led to a 99% decline in numbers. While the drug is now banned, the number of poisoning incidents like the one reported is preventing the species from rebounding.
This latest poisoning incident in India happened more or less at the same time when conservationists in the country have highlighted the importance of protecting vultures by putting a value on their scavenging activity: Researchers in India studied the cost and volume of industrial carcass disposal in order to estimate the vultures’ economic value- They found that 600 vultures eat the same amount of animal remains in a year as a medium-sized disposal plant. If we take in consideration the cost of operating the plants, each vulture scavenging habits was calculated as worth 600,000-700,000 rupees (just under 10,000 USD). Researchers suggest that it makes more sense to invest in vulture conservation than building new carcass-disposal plants. See more news on this study here.
This article was first published by the Vulture Conservation Foundation 2 March 20106