By Mary Beth Griggs
Elephant populations aren’t the only ones being threatened by unsustainable poaching. Elephant poachers are also targeting vultures. As Madeline Bolin reports at Environment 360, it is becoming increasingly common for poachers to poison the carcass of elephants they hunt, so that the circling birds don’t give away the location of the kill.
Park rangers and other law enforcement officers (who are themselves occasionally murdered by poachers) can use circling vultures to figure out where a large kill has taken place, so it’s in the best interest of the poachers to get rid of the aerial evidence. Last summer, as many as 600 vultures died after feeding on a single poisoned carcass in Namibia.
Vultures might not be as cute and compelling as elephants, but they are a threatened species. And this is a devastating blow to their population. Vultures only raise one chick every one to two years, making rebounding from rampant slaughter difficult.
And in Africa vultures are also being inadvertently poisoned by farmers trying to kill big predators. Bolin writes:
" All over the world, farmers protect their livestock by killing carnivores. In Africa, the favored method is poison. “In Kenya, we got our first wind of this situation when the poisoning of lions, leopards, and hyenas became a big issue again,” says Kenya-based Darcy Ogada, assistant director of Africa programs for The Peregrine Fund. Farmers set out livestock carcasses salted with poison. “Vultures come in by the hundreds and die by the hundreds,” she said. The vulture deaths far outnumber the carnivores that the farmers intended to kill."
And as if that wasn’t enough, vulture heads are also prized in traditional medicine in some parts of Africa, making them a target for poachers in their own right. There aren’t any easy solutions to the problem, though experts have suggested legal, economic and educational means to reduce the slaughter. Of the 11 vulture species that the IUCN Red List lists in Africa, nin have decreasing populations, and seven are classed as endangered or vulnerable.