More vultures illegally poisoned
[The Namibian – 20 Aug 2009]

Vulture conservation in Namibia is hampered by ongoing poisoning events. On Friday 14th August a tourist reported seeing a number of vultures that seemed to be unable to fly on the Wilhemstahl Omaruru Road. By the time that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism officials and Liz Komen of NARREC arrived at the scene only dead birds were found. They were all Lappet-faced Vultures, the largest vulture species in Africa. This latest poison event comes just a couple of weeks after a fund-raising dinner, organized by Vultures Namibia, raised N$8 000 to assist in the conservation of this species.

During a brief search around the site a partially consumed carcass of a Black-backed Jackal, only 10 meters from the nearest dead vulture, was picked up. This carcass was reasonably well hidden in the dense grass on the side of the road and signs of struggle seen in the dirt on the road were probably from the poisoned and dying birds as they attempted to fly away.

It is not difficult to piece together the scenario leading up to this poisoning incident. A farmer had either had an event of predation or an attempt at predation or simply has been hearing jackals calling at night, this being the time of year when jackals are very vocal. The farmer has poison stored or has a neighbor that has poison in store. The farmer sets out a bait with a large amount of poison and whether that farmer is or is not aware of the fact that the bait was consumed, no successful attempt is made to follow the victim, in this case a jackal. The jackal must have consumed a lot of poison to be able to kill so many large vultures. These birds died from secondary poisoning without being able to even fly from the poison scene.
Vultures use air currents and thermals to rise and search for carcasses on the ground. Thermals only develop once the ground has been warmed by the sun, which means that the vultures only start there search for food by mid-morning. They depend entirely on carrion for food and are in fact very useful to farmers because of their ability to find carcasses that can then alert farmers to livestock deaths. They also clean the veld of rotting meat thereby limiting fly development and spread of disease.

Interestingly only one report of the dying and later dead birds was received. Yet during the time that the MET officials and NARREC were on the road searching for possible poison survivors at least 6 cars passed the site. During the hours between the initial report and the removal of the carcasses it is quite possible that 20 to 30 cars passed these large birds lying on the edge of the road.

The use of poison as a livestock management tool has been discussed within the agricultural, veterinary and environmental fields for decades. Farmers have been asked not to use poison as it is a indiscriminate tool that cannot accurately target the actual livestock predator Framers that use poison tend to have ongoing issues with predators as they continuously remove resident territorial animals and open the land to roving individuals.

Farmers have been asked not to use poison and in fact poison use is illegal. More over if there is understanding of poisonous chemicals and of the mechanism of food chains, then only micrograms of a chemical would be used to avoid secondary poisoning of non-target species.

Cooperation is the key to the future survival of large birds of prey.

Liz Komen