Another poison case
[The Namibian – January 2011]

Another year starts with yet another reported case of vultures poisoned. This time again on the road from Wilhelmstal to Omaruru and almost exactly where three of our specially protected Lappet-faced Vultures were found dead in August 2009. All signs point to this being the same farmer using the same deadly chemical in the same ignorant way.

The Namibian public is the owner of Namibia’s wild birds. Other than ostriches, birds cannot be fenced in to a yard or a farm. All of us are given the gift of over 650 bird species in Namibia. Some species are tiny, weighing around 7 grams and others are the bird giants weighing up to 10 kilograms. All have roles to play in life and the services that birds offer to people are far beyond the simple joys of hearing their song or watching their aerial acrobatics.

Many bird populations around the world are showing signs of decline. Two obvious and well-documented reasons for this are the changes that are happening to natural habitats and the use of chemical pesticides. Pesticides can either severely reduce birds’ food source thereby effectively starving the population or contaminate the food source to the extent of poisoning the birds through secondary intake of the chemical.

This fabulous wet summer season will bring a host of problems to farmers, gardeners and householders. Wet weather increases plant growth that in turn encourages insects and other consumer loads. Fungi, viruses and bacteria that are unusual in our dry climate will likely also increase. The chemical pesticide manufacturers and retail companies are potentially going to have a bumper season. Pesticides are a multi-million dollar business. Companies have dedicated marketing that make it so easy for the public to grab the relevant container off the supermarket shelf or receive their product from the well primed retail salesman.

Today’s chemical companies that produce pesticides are well aware of the extent of damage that has been done to the environment by their products. They also know that there is a global lobby against such environmental damage. More and more these companies are attempting to develop products that are highly target specific, killing just one pest type. Recognized companies comply with international regulations designed to assist the public on exactly how, where and when to use their potentially lethal products in order to minimize the fall-out. However they have to rely on an intelligent and environmentally aware end-user.

A correctly used pesticide may be the most immediate and effective way to deal with a pest problem, but there are considerations. Researching the specific environment will yield the first clues as to why there is a pest problem. Then one of the first things to consider is the extent of biodiversity in the garden or on the farm. The emphasis on biodiversity is not just to save plant and animal species, nor to keep them as a potential cure for some disease. Diversity allows for the proper spread of organisms and it encourages natural control agents, preventing pests and diseases from attacking a single species or an unusual host and thereby reducing our risks of epidemics.

Organic vegetable garden at NARREC
Organic vegetable garden at NARREC

Organic pesticides are often thought of as a safe alternative to chemical products, but they can be as lethal and damaging. Repellants, be they pungent garden sprays made from herbs, cleverly designed scare objects in fields or livestock guard dogs, are effective in many situations. Manual removal of pests is time consuming but at least both effective as well as target specific. There are hosts of websites giving advice to the problem of pests and a little time spent researching will yield a range of possible remedies that are target specific and will cause the least long-term damage.

Predation is a most serious farming issue, be it on crops or livestock. Control must be well thought out, not only because of the immediate financial burden of crop loss or cost of pesticide but also because of the long-term effects on the land. Using agricultural pesticides must be strictly in line with the recommendations of chemical manufacturers as printed on the product’s container. Agricultural pesticides are not designed to kill mammalian predators because they are not target specific and they do exactly what the pesticide companies are trying to prevent, they poison animals in a slow and painful way and they kill along the food chain. Using products “off-label” is illegal as is killing of nationally protected wildlife species.

For those farmers who continue to laugh in the face of law and order and who are either too lazy or too ignorant to adapt well-designed land and herd management techniques to their livestock farming practices, there must surely be retribution from the Namibian public. NARREC is often recipient of magnificent birds in deep distress and we hope that the Namibian public can in some way assist in rallying against this anti-Namibian behaviour.

Liz Komen