At least 537 vultures in Botswana have been wiped out – through mass poisoning. They represented five species of vultures and two tawny eagles. In Africa alone, there are only eight species of vulture – and five of them are located in Botswana.

Representatives from Botswana’s Wildlife and National Parks Department (DWNP) found the dead vultures in the Central District, an area near the Zimbabwe border and close to Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

It was discovered that three poached elephant carcasses were laced with poison, which led to the deaths. Vultures are often the first to arrive at a carcass after a kill, or the first to pick up a dead animal. The species of vultures included 28 hooded vultures, 10 cape vultures, 468 white-backed vultures, 17 white-headed vultures, and 14 lappet faced vultures.

Because it is breeding season, many of the poisoned adult vultures would have already had eggs or chicks, which in all likely hood will now die – leading to this death toll being much higher.

David Barritt, chief campaigner for animal welfare organization, Network for Animals (NFA), said he was appalled by the news.

“Botswana keeps cropping up in the news when it comes to wildlife matters. We note that they seem to have a huge problem protecting their wildlife and this is extremely worrying,” he said.

“NFA is monitoring the situation which seems to have been caused because the Botswana government has allowed hunting and is not as stringent in preventing elephant poaching as the previous government. We urge the Botswana government to reconsider its position in the light of the devastating effect this is having on endangered species.”

Barritt says protecting wildlife should be a priority for all African nations and that leaders need to start putting lives ahead of greed.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), white-headed, white-backed and hooded vultures are critically endangered species, while lappet faced and cape vultures are classified as endangered.

Africa Geographic acknowledged that vultures face many threats to their ongoing survival, including mass poisoning incidents such as this, habitat and nesting site loss, collisions with power lines and pylons, as well as poaching. It said vultures provided an invaluable ‘clean-up’ service to the ecosystem, due to their unique digestive ability, and without them the spread of disease from rotting carcasses would be rife.