Botswana’s vulture bird population is on the brink of extinction as a result of poisoning.
The damning allegation was raised by Birdlife Botswana director Dr Kabelo Senyatso who is concerned that government is disinterested in saving the species from possible extinction.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr Senyatso said that intentional and accidental poisoning are topmost threats to vultures in Botswana. He is calling on the government to do everything possible to protect the endangered bird species.
“We have on several occasions alerted the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) who are giving the issue little or no attention. Vultures play an important role as they keep natural and man-made habitats free of carcasses, waste and even human excrement. They limit spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism. They also play an important part in our tourism sector,” he said.
He said that 250 vultures were killed in Kwando (Ngamiland District) due to poisoning in May 2012 and to make matters worse, in July this year 400 to 600 dead vultures were found near a poisoned elephant carcass in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip.
“This was an intentional attempt by poachers, who laced the carcass with a chemical to kill vultures, because vultures congregate around carcasses and are therefore often used by law enforcers as indicators of poaching activity. Given that these occurred during the breeding season, many of these birds would have been breeding, thus the total death toll when one considers eggs and chicks would most likely exceed 1 000 birds. Many of the dead vultures in Caprivi Strip could without doubt have been Botswana’s birds. As a nation we should be concerned with this development,” said Dr Senyatso.
To save the situation, Birdlife Botswana launched a campaign themed “I want Botswana Vultures Alive not Dead” to ensure that individuals, farmers, government agencies and private sector companies that may have intentionally or deliberately contributed to these threats are made aware of the seriousness of problem.
He added that the campaign seeks to raise awareness at the highest level in governments across Southern African region in a bid that poisoning of vultures receive appropriate attention and priority for action similar to that given to other endangered animal species.
“The decline of vultures due to poisoning should receive the appropriate attention and priority similar to that of rhino and elephant poaching in terms of legislation, pursuit of those responsible and appropriate penalties meted once culprits are apprehended,” he said.
Dr Senyatso lamented that toxic veterinary products and medicines given to livestock and wild animals are some of the causative agents to the threatened birds once they eat fed carcasses.
In order to address the challenge, Dr Senyatso called on veterinarians and farmers to collaborate with Birdlife Botswana for provision of a list of products that have been shown to be toxic to vultures and not advisable for use.
“There are safer alternatives that veterinarians and farmers can use to avoid poisoning the vultures. The poisoning of carcasses of poached wildlife as happened with the approximately 400 to 600 vultures killed in Caprivi Strip is also a serious concern. It requires government and non-state actors input especially with actions coordinated across international boundaries,” he added.
Dr Senyatso further expressed concern over the general negative perception by the public towards vultures saying that it worsens the situation by making it difficult to convince people that the decline of vulture population will have a negative implication on their lives such as loss of environmental cleaning services and loss of income in the tourism sector.
“Unfortunately this negative attitude permeates society at all levels (local, national and international) and it has been a challenge to convince governments, donors and industries to support vulture conservation,” he said.
He said Birdlife Botswana in conjunction with outside collaborators are taking action to address the problem. Dr Senyatso said that their priority actions include research and monitoring to produce evidence to pursue governments and industry to change their practices and commit resources to vulture conservation.
Efforts to solicit a comment from the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism were futile at the time of going to press as the ministry spokesperson Annah Bogatsu had not yet responded to this newspaper’s enquiries.
Birdlife Botswana is a non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1980. Its objectives include conservation of birds and important bird habitats by creating awareness, carrying out research and promoting beneficial relationships between birds and people.