Poachers with guns have killed hundreds of thousands of elephants and thousands of rhinos in Africa in recent years, but now wildlife traffickers are targeting vultures because the scavenging birds circle overhead when an animal is killed and draw the attention of anti-poaching rangers.
The latest victims of this growing practice are 87 vultures that were killed in Mozambique late last month. They died after consuming poison planted in the carcass of a poached elephant.
The South Africa-based Endangered Wildlife Trust says at least 80 white-backed vultures and seven hooded vultures were killed in this single incident. Another 17 poisoned vultures were treated and survived.
Sadly, poisoning isn’t the only problem faced by vultures which play a crucial role in the African bush because they clear away carcasses and prevent the spread of diseases like anthrax, rabies, tuberculosis and botulism.
Vulture populations are declining because of mass poisoning, a loss of habitat which causes them to come into contact with power lines, wind farms and roads, and because their body parts are sometimes used for traditional medicine.
Members of the Endangered Wildlife Trust say that some of the bodies of the vultures killed in the latest poisoning in Mozambique were mutilated, suggesting that they were used for traditional medicine.
“Worldwide, vultures are considered one of the most threatened groups of birds,” explains Network for Animals campaign director, David Barritt. “Seven out of 11 species of vulture are on the edge of extinction.”
NFA is supporting the Endangered Wildlife Trust which is using aerial reconnaissance to discover where vultures breed, and then protect their babies.
“The ultimate goal is to reverse the alarming decline in vulture numbers across Africa,” says Barritt.