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49 Vultures Poisoned Near Kruger National Park ((TOP))



Lion poisoning has been steadily increasing in Limpopo National Park. Peter Leitner, a Peace Parks Foundation Project Manager for the park says, It is of grave concern to us. Over the last year, there have been seven lions poisoned and eight incidences were recorded where poisoned bait was found in the park. In the communal land south of park, two lions were poisoned when they fed on a cow that was laced with poison. In May, two lion cubs, a male and female, were found poisoned close to a river in the park.




49 Vultures poisoned near Kruger National Park



Intentional (and illegal) poisoning is also a major contributor of vulture mortality across the globe. For example, in Spain, which is home to 90% of European vultures, over 4,000 vultures of four species were illegally poisoned in the two decades between 1990 and 201014. Similarly, African vulture populations are experiencing rapid declines and most species are now at risk of extinction15, with poison use being a major contributor to vulture deaths7,16,17. Indeed, because Gyps vultures are social foragers and often respond in large numbers to feeding opportunities discovered by other vultures or scavenging raptors18, hundreds of birds can be killed by a single, poisoned carcass16. Counts of over 400 dead vultures have been made at poisoned elephant (Loxodonta africana) carcasses in south-central Africa, with eleven reported incidents of sentinel poisoning in the region over a two-year period16. Sentinel poisoning occurs when carcasses are intentionally poisoned to kill vultures in an attempt to mask poaching activities from field rangers and law enforcement officers. Vultures also appear as fetish in traditional markets across the continent, with six vulture species ranking in the top 19 conservation priority bird species being traded in Africa19. Although the exact methods used to trap vultures for such traditional markets are not known, at least some of them would have been poisoned20.


All the work was conducted in accordance with relevant national and international guidelines, and conforms to all legal requirements. All experimental protocols were approved and endorsed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust Ethics Committee. Furthermore, vulture captures were carried out in compliance with the South African National Parks and EKZN Wildlife Scientific Services, South Africa. Wing-tagging of vultures was conducted within the guidelines adopted by the Birds of Prey Working Group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.


A dedicated re-sightings programme was established by publicising the project using television and radio broadcasts, articles to local newspapers and magazines, and posters in various rest camps in the Greater Kruger National Park as well as parks managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Re-sightings were reported by a wide range of people by phone, e-mail or sms. A significant proportion of re-sightings was submitted by the staff at two vulture feeding sites: (1) Moholoholo near the town of Hoedspruit in the Greater Kruger National Park region; and (2) Kempenfeldt near the town of Dundee in the KZN region. Re-sightings were also reported by managers of other vulture restaurants, game ranchers, farmers and tourists.


The lappet-faced vulture's world population is believed to have decreased perceptibly, and as of October 2015 their IUCN status was updated to Endangered. They are declining in Sahel and several parts of their southern, northern and western distribution in Africa. They are apparently currently stable in Arabia but have a small population there and have been extirpated from Israel as a breeding bird. The declines are almost entirely due to human activities, including disturbances from habitat destruction and cultivation, disturbances at the nesting site (to which the species is reportedly quite sensitive) and ingestion of pesticides, which are usually set out for jackals and other small mammalian carnivores. Domestic cattle, who have replaced natural prey over much of the range, are now often sold off, rather than abandoned, due to the proliferation of markets and abattoirs and rarely left to die and be consumed by vultures. Lappet-faced vultures are also sometimes victims of direct persecution, including shooting and the use of strychnine and other poisons. In Namibia, 86 vultures died after eating poisoned cattle carcasses, because the farmers erroneously believed they were killing and eating the cattle. In some cases the poisoning is done by poachers, who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to their activities, the illegal killings of protected species. They are considered Vulnerable at the species level, with an estimated world population of under 9,000 individuals.[1][5]


On 20 June 2019, the carcasses of 468 white-backed vultures, 17 white-headed vultures, 28 hooded vultures, 14 lappet-faced vultures and 10 cape vultures, altogether 537 vultures, besides 2 tawny eagles, were found in northern Botswana. It is suspected that they died after eating the carcasses of 3 elephants that were poisoned by poachers, possibly to avoid detection by the birds, which help rangers to track poaching activity by circling above where there are dead animals.[10][11][12][13]


The satisfied birds, covered in dust and caked with blood, then retired to their nearest bathing place to wash off. Their eagerness to get at the meat can be their undoing. There are reports of White-backed Vultures being killed by other vultures after climbing inside the body cavity of large mammals and getting trapped. White-backed Vultures nest mostly in acacia trees, often above Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver nests. When mating, they sound like rhinos in distress.


Pairs rarely interact with other pairs but do congregate at kills and bathe together at water holes. When they drop out of the sky they usually descend in a languid spiral and are often the last vultures to arrive at a kill. However, they usually quickly assert their dominance using their size to bully other contenders off the carcass. They tend to eat the skin, tendons and ligaments, which other vultures find hard to process, and therefore do not go hungry for arriving late. They sometimes copulate near carcasses.


The lappet-faced vulture's world population is believed to have decreased perceptibly (As for October 2015 their IUCN status was updated to Endangered). They are declining in Sahel and several parts of their southern, northern and western distribution in Africa. They are apparently currently stable in Arabia but have a small population there and have been extirpated from Israel as a breeding bird. The declines are almost entirely due to human activities, including disturbances from habitat destruction and cultivation, disturbances at the nesting site (to which the species is reportedly quite sensitive) and ingestion of pesticides, which are usually set out for jackals and other small mammalian carnivores. Domestic cattle, who have replaced natural prey over much of the range, are now often sold off, rather than abandoned, due to the proliferation of markets and abattoirs and rarely left to die and be consumed by vultures. Lappet-faced vultures are also sometimes victims of direct persecution, including shooting and the use of strychnine and other poisons. In Namibia, 86 lappet-faced vultures died after eating poisoned cattle carcasses, because the farmers erroneously believed they were killing and eating the cattle. In some cases the poisoning is done by poachers, who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to their activities, the illegal killings of protected species. They are considered Vulnerable at the species level, with an estimated world population of under 9,000 individuals.


According to a study in a peer-reviewed paper by ecologist Mbali Mashele, vultures play a significant role in the spiritual practices and occult beliefs of various communities in Africa. Mbali and her team interviewed 51 traditional healers and 197 others in nine villages in the Bushbuckridge Local Municipality, near protected areas including Greater Kruger. They found that vulture body parts were commonly used by people hoping to see into the future, appease their ancestors, for good luck and to cure illnesses.


And a September 2020 scholarly paper on vulture poisoning highlighted that vulture poisoning was rife in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, a vast area spanning national parks (notably the Kruger) and private and communally owned land in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.


The species occasionally drowns in circular concrete farm reservoirs particularly in the drier western parts of the region (Knight 1987, Anderson 1995, Anderson et al. 1997, 1999, Herholdt and Anderson 2006) but apparently not to the same extent as the Cape Vulture. It has been suggested that poisoned vultures may be particularly prone to such drowning, as one symptom of the poisoning may be extreme thirst, and this potential association should be investigated.


The long-distance movements evidenced by this species (Oatley 1998, Monadjem et al. 2013, Phipps et al. 2013), perhaps especially juveniles and immatures, which are truly sub-continental in scale, mean that individuals are exposed to a wide range of threats during the course of their wanderings. Even birds present in large protected areas move outside these regions and hence within range of the many major dangers faced by the species. A simple example is of a bird ringed in a private nature reserve near Kimberley in Northern Cape and recovered poisoned in Namibia (Bridgeford 2001). The White-backed Vulture, like the Cape Vulture, benefits from a communal foraging system and any large-scale reduction in numbers could negatively impact the efficiency of this method of carcass location, with further negative consequences for the species (Dermody et al. 2011).


A current concern is that park rangers at Hontoon Island State Park in Florida noticed in February 2022 that black vultures were dying at higher-than-normal rates. Investigators have hypothesized that consuming the remains of birds who died from H5N1 might have infected and killed the dead black vultures.


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