Birdlife Botswana is in the process of compiling a manual that will help security personnel and everyone else make the right decision at the scene where poaching had occurred.
The move comes after the organisation realised that often people who reach scenes of poaching first do not know what action to take.
Director of Birdlife Botswana, Dr Kabelo Senyatso, said it is especially disturbing in a situation where animals like elephants or rhinos which are usually poached for their tusks are poisoned by the poachers so that vultures died from feeding on the carcass. Some people just leave the carcass as it is while others set it on fire.
“The manual would guide the people of what steps to take whenever they reach poaching scenes, which include recording evidence on the site. It would show the difference between a poisoned carcass and the one that was not poisoned,” Senyatso stated.
“Besides colours of chemicals that might be visible at the scene, a poisoned carcass would have several foraging birds like vultures dead around it,” he said, adding that those who burn the carcass do a good job as it saves lives of vultures and other scavenging animals.
The decision to come up with a manual comes at a time when Birdlife Botswana is disturbed by the imminent threat to the vulture species while everyone is concerned with poaching of big animals like elephants and rhinos.
To the organisation, birds form an important part of the ecosystem and their long lifespan means a slow population increase.
His concern comes a few weeks after the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust published a report on the investigation carried out on the Kwando vulture poisoning. The method used as analysed in the report is probably the informant of the compilation of the manual.
A helicopter landed approximately 350m from the site where the carcasses were. Upon arrival at the poison site, two methods to estimate the number of birds were used.
Firstly an estimate was used by counting carcasses of birds based primarily on remains of wings-robust flight feathers and other remains. This was made difficult owing to the age of the carcasses and to the fact that in the areas of highest concentration of dead birds the carcasses were layered on top of each other where they had died.
Secondly a precise minimum number of dead birds were derived by collecting and counting major skeletal structures. These included skull, sternum and synsacrum (the fused pelvic and posterior back bone typical of birds). These were then separated into type (each of which represents a single dead bird, as opposed to other robust skeletal structures that were also prevalent such as wing or leg bones). Due to the age condition of the carcasses the decomposition and time constraints at the site, investigators are certain they did not manage to collect skeletal pieces to represent every dead bird.
The results of the methods showed that at carcass one 228 vultures were found. Some 228 individual pelvic structures were collected, and skulls used to identify species. By the second carcass 38 dead vultures estimated by counting 34 individual pelvic structures were collected, all were white backed. By the third carcass two white backed vultures were found.
No tusks were present at any of these three remains. Two of the three skulls showed evidence of having been burnt. All three were less than 150 m from a nearby vehicle track. Samples of pink splattered substance found on the feathers of dead vultures lying beneath the largest tree from the carcasses were collected for possible analysis and identification.
Senyatso explained that a way forward in tackling this poaching and poisoning problem is difficult. They have however identified issues through which they can try.
“Poisoning is sometimes done by drugs injected on livestock. There are livestock injections which cause death of scavengers if the livestock die when they are still active in the blood stream and these scavengers eat them. There is need to lobby Ministry of Agriculture to use alternative drugs,” he explained.
He said in some instances liquid form of drugs proves to be more poisonous than granule, in which case the latter should be encouraged.
Another issue is that of ignorance of poisonous substances by personnel which should be controlling what is brought into the country and what should not.
“We have come to know that Customs Officers just permit chemicals into the country out of ignorance. They just assume they are harmless. Therefore sensitization needs be done. People should know that poisoning of wildlife can affect their livestock and every life,” said Senyatso.