Poisoning – both planned and accidental – has been driving Africa, including Botswana’s vultures to the brink of extinction. But hope is now at hand.
This is according to a local non-governmental organisation dubbed Birdlife Botswana. The NGO says it has over the years noticed increasing cases of vulture poisoning backed by high demand for use of vulture body parts for traditional medicine as well as collisions with man-made structures such as power lines and wind turbines.
Director of Birdlife Botswana -Virat Motshereganyi Kootsositse says as contribution to a broader approach of tackling threats currently facing vultures and consequently halt the decline of vulture species in Botswana and Africa in general, BirdLife Botswana collaborated with three other BirdLife partners -BirdWatch Zambia, BirdLife International and BirdLife Zimbabwe. The international organisations seek to tackle wildlife poisoning which by extension negatively affect vulture populations in the three countries – Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The new project is funded by European Union through the BIOPAMA program. On the Botswana side, Kootsositse says the project will be implemented in Chobe whose experiences scaled out to the rest of the country.
“The main goal of this project is to reduce poison related vulture deaths; and consequently other wildlife species deaths within the KAZA region but for now at selected pilot sites being Chobe District in Botswana, Kafue in Zambia and Hwange in Zimbabwe,” says Kootsositse.
He highlight that illegal poisoning of wildlife has resulted in decimation of wildlife populations worldwide.
Scavengers, he adds, particularly vultures are uniquely adapted to exploit food sources such as carcasses and other natural waste, acting as nature’s garbage collectors. In keeping habitats free of carcasses and waste, vultures restrict the spread of diseases, such as anthrax, botulism and tuberculosis, at no financial cost. Despite their extremely important ecologically role and high economical value, he emphasised vultures are amongst the most threatened animals on the planet and face a real threat of extinction through poisoning.
He indicated that wildlife poisoning is currently the major threat to vulture survival in Botswana with a continuing spate of poisoning incidents -resulting from both predator baiting and targeted vulture poisoning by poachers; resulting in heavy vulture mortality, with serious and far-reaching impacts on Botswana’s vulture populations.
Some of the common reasons for poisoning wildlife are for control of problem animals- retaliatory killings of predators, poaching and killing wildlife sentinels by poachers.
One of the most recent poisoning incidents took place in June 2019, killing at least 537 endangered vultures -of five different species- around Chobe region. The incident happened where vultures fed on at least three poisoned elephant carcasses.