Birdlife Botswana is worried the decline in numbers of endangered bird species like vultures might seriously affect the country’s tourism in the long term as birds play a critical role in the industry.
The organisation’s Director, Dr Kabelo Senyatso, told Sunday Standard that the number of birds listed as Critical Endangered has reached an all high time high with the release of this year’s Red List for birds by Bird life International and its national partners.
“At least 1 000 vultures have been poisoned during the last six months,” he said.
The list of endangered species in Botswana includes the Grey Crowned Crane, White backed vultures, the hooded vulture and nine others are listed as vulnerable.
All of Botswana’s vultures are now listed as either endangered or vulnerable because their population has declined drastically over the recent years largely due to poisoning by some farmers and wildlife poachers in Botswana and surrounding areas.
The problem is caused by farmers who would typically lace livestock carcasses with poison targeting mammalian carnivores that are thought to pose a threat to livestock adding that often it is the non targeted vultures that find the poisoned carcasses and mistakenly getting killed.
“There is also a problem of wildlife poachers who deliberately poison elephant carcasses because otherwise if vultures circled over the carcasses, they would alert the security personnel to poaching areas,” he said.
“We plead with the government, the private sector, the media, civil society, farmers associations and importantly political leaders and the general public to partner with us to help reverse this trend.”
According to Senyatso, should Botswana vultures become extinct, there will be a higher spread of diseases from carcasses left to rot while ecosystems will fall out of balance and Botswana will experience a loss of income from bird tourism.
He however said that they are still conducting a study on how much bird tourism especially the vultures contribute to Botswana’s tourism sector.
“Areas like the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park are known for their bird viewing tourism particularly the vultures,” he said.
Wilderness Safaris environmental ecologist, Nick Proust, also shared similar sentiments with Dr Senyatso saying that bird species in Botswana are seriously declining due to poisoning.
“Earlier this year in the Kwando region, 600 vultures were poisoned and a month ago 200 vultures were poisoned at the Caprivi Strip. The most painful part is that these birds are poisoned during their breeding seasons. They are poisoned by farmers targeting animals that eat their livestock.
Poachers also have a role in killing the birds as they poison the carcasses so that the vultures do not circle over dead carcasses to alert the security agents,” he said.
Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Neil Fitt, said that they are aware of the declining number of birds due to poisoning.
“It is a difficult issue but we are working hand in hand with Birdlife Botswana and other stakeholders to address the problem,” he said.
Fitt said that they do monitor the poisons used by the farmers and they are working hand in hand with the Ministry of Agriculture to educate the farmers on poison usage. He confirmed that the decline has an impact on the tourism sector.
“Poisons that are not monitored are used by poachers who enter into the country illegally and with farmers we are busy educating them and sensitizing them about the use of poisons to kill the carnivores leading to poisoning of the birds,” he said.