At least 150 critically-endangered vultures were killed by poisoning in separate incidents in Botswana and South Africa, conservationists said Friday.
“Over the last two days, 150 vultures have been poisoned in two separate incidents,” vulture conservation group Vulpro said on Facebook. More than 50 white-backed vultures were found dead in Botswana’s Chobe district, and around 100 were discovered in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
“These killings were aimed at targeting vultures for muti [traditional medicine practice in Southern Africa]. Their heads, feet and organs were removed,” Vulpro said. Park officials in South Africa are investigating the incident, confirming that some of the vultures’ carcasses appeared to have been killed for their body parts.
The birds died after eating a buffalo’s carcass, which appeared to have been laced with poison, said Vulpro’s founder Kerri Wolter. “What makes this even more catastrophic is that it’s breeding season now,” Wolter told news agency AFP. He explained that vulture babies would not survive without their parents.
The white-backed vulture is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. “Given the critical status of vultures globally, poisonings at this scale place the species at increasing risk of extinction,” Yolan Friedmann, the head of the Endangered Wildlife Trust conservation group, said.
Poachers are also known to kill vultures in southern Africa as the birds attract unwanted attention to their illegal activities. In 2019, poachers killed 537 vultures in northern Botswana by putting poison on elephant carcasses.
Vultures’ primary food source is meat, soft tissue and organs from carcasses. Unintentional poisoning happens when vultures consume poisoned baits put out for other wildlife animals or when they consume carcasses of animals that have died from poisoning.
The growing problem of human-wildlife conflict has seen farmers who experience frequent crop-raiding by elephants, buffalo, and other animals resort to poisoning those animals to ‘take care’ of the problem.
Both Asia and Africa have seen sharp declines in vulture populations in the last 30 years due to intentional and unintentional poisoning, which has directly contributed to eight vulture species in these regions being listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.