By Claire Salisbury
As the illegal poaching of African elephants and rhinos reaches epidemic levels, other species are also suffering catastrophic losses as a direct result of poachers' behavior. A recent incident in July, where a poisoned elephant carcass led to the death of 600 vultures near Namibia's Bwabwata National Park, has highlighted how poachers' use of poison is now one of the primary threats to vulture populations. Poachers poison carcasses to kill vultures, since large flocks may give away the location of poaching activity, attracting the attention of law enforcement officials.
"By poisoning carcasses, poachers hope to eradicate vultures from an area where they operate and thereby escape detection," explains Leo Niskanen, Technical Coordinator, IUCN Conservation Areas and Species Diversity Programme. "The fact that incidents such as these can be linked to the rampant poaching of elephants in Africa is a serious concern. Similar incidents have been recorded in Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia in recent years".
African vultures are highly imperiled, and are under pressure from a range of factors, including habitat loss as well as poisonings. Drastic population declines over the last 30 years have resulted in many species being classified as threatened by the IUCN. On average, the number of vultures in West Africa has dropped by 42% during this time, with Rueppell's vulture (Gyps rueppellii) suffering losses of up to 85%.
"The current rate of population declines will likely see the extinction of most of Africa's vultures in the next 40-50 years should the current threats continue to have the level of impact they currently do," André Botha, Co-chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Vulture Specialist Group, told mongabay.com.
"However, it could happen sooner should occurrences such as these mass-poisonings continue or escalate." Although the magnitude of the incident in Namibia is clear, the details have been difficult to assess accurately because the mass poisoning was not reported for some weeks. More....