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article imageAfrican vulture populations declining at alarming rate

By Karen Graham     Aug 3, 2015 in Environment
After experiencing an alarmingly swift decline over the past several decades, six species of African vultures are now likely to qualify as 'Critically Endangered' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
This dire prediction comes from a group of international researchers from the University of St Andrews, the Hawk Conservancy Trust and the University of York. In a report published in June of this year in the scientific journal Conservation Letters, the scientists described the first continent-wide estimates of decline rates in African vultures.
Vultures, while not the most beautiful of the bird species play an important role in the circle of life, as we understand it. More to the point, as scavengers, vultures are necessary to a healthy ecosystem. But the researchers found that even within Africa's national parks and preserves, very little was being done to protect them.
Without them, carcasses of dead animals are consumed by mammalian scavengers such as jackals and dogs, and this will in turn, increase the levels of disease transmission with possibly dire consequences for human health.
Vultures cleaning up an animal carcass.
Vultures cleaning up an animal carcass.
Most people don't realize that vultures do not follow herds of healthy animals, but they are on the lookout for the sick and dying. They are like the Earth's own private housekeeper, cleaning up the waste.
Decline because of urbanization and traditional medicine
But today across Africa, vultures are electrocuted by power lines, or crushed by wind turbines as populations become increasingly urbanized. But modernization and the technology that goes with it are not the biggest killers of vultures.
In Africa, vultures have been widely hunted for traditional medicines and rituals. The use of just about every part of the vulture has been documented, from feathers being used in arrow shafts, to the feet bringing "good luck" in gambling.
Biggest decline caused by elephant poachers
The biggest threat today for vulture populations in Africa doesn't come from wind farms, electrical lines or even traditional uses by native people. The biggest slaughter of vultures comes from illegal poaching. In the report published in Conservation Letters, the researchers studied vulture populations dating back to 1961.
The researcher's work revealed that since the 1970's, over 60 percent of vulture deaths have been caused by the birds consuming poisoned elephant and rhino carcasses, the beasts laced with agricultural poison by poachers to discourage the vultures from drawing authorities to the site.
Animal herders lace livestock carcasses with pesticides to kill lions and hyenas that have attacked ...
Animal herders lace livestock carcasses with pesticides to kill lions and hyenas that have attacked domestic animals. Scene filmed in Kenya in 2012 shows some of the 187 vultures, 14 eagles, 5 hyenas, and four jackals killed after consuming cow carcass lased with poison.
Wild Lens Inc
In August 2014, freelance journalist, Madeline Bodin reported that in 2013, almost 600 African vultures died while scavenging an elephant carcass near Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park. Bodin reports that in eastern and southern Africa, vulture populations have declined 60 percent, while in the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, four vulture species have declined by 98 percent. These vultures are near extinction.
Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund and lead author of the study, says, "The situation requires the resolution of a number of environmental and cultural issues. We propose a range of measures, including more effective regulation of the import and sale of agricultural and other chemicals commonly used as poisons. This would benefit not just vultures, but all species widely targeted by pastoralists and poachers in Africa."
The study, Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa's Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction, was published in the journal Conservation Letters on June 18, 2015.
More about african vultures, Poachers, Poisoning, urbanization, West africa
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