Expert: do not blame the raptors

2015-09-01 06:00

BIRDS of prey have received much negative press over the last few months, following attacks on domestic animals.

With the outraged pets owners calling for measures to be taken against the birds, Durban Natural Science Museum curator of birds David Allan has explained just how important they are.

He said the province has over 80 species of birds of prey, the largest being the Crowned, Martial and Verreaux’s eagles [previously called the Black Eagles].

“The three largest eagles of KZN, indeed of Africa in general, are apex predators in their environments.

“The apex predator sits at the top of their respective food chains in the environments they inhabit.

“They will weed out the sick and weak individuals in their prey populations, providing an evolutionary selective pressure that removes prey individuals of inferior genetic quality,” said Allan.

“Unfortunately all three of these birds will occasionally take domestic animals. However, they will also readily take carrion and only feed on livestock such as lamb and young goats after they have died of some other cause.

“Farmers often mistakenly blame the eagles for this mortality. Martial Eagles, as regular predators of large birds, sometimes attack free-range poultry, which can attract the ire of some farmers. Like Verreaux’s Eagles, they will also occasionally take lambs and goat kids.

“African Crowned Eagles are occasionally known to take domestic dogs and cats [a habit unknown in Verreaux’s and Martial Eagles] but this is rare and usually restricted to young, inexperienced birds.

“It is also restricted only to urban areas. But it should be stressed that these instances of attacking domestic animals are rare and temporary in nature, and typically not of any real economic significance.”

Allan added that many of the wild animals eagles feed on directly compete with farmers’ livestock for grazing; the eagles therefore assist farmers in reducing the numbers through natural predation.

He said birds of prey are often persecuted based on a misunderstanding of the birds and how important they are to the environment.

“Many birds of prey will take carrion, and are vulnerable to poisoning by poorly informed people who place poisoned bait for eagles,” said Allan.

“Such poisoning is illegal and placing poisons in the environment in this way is simply dangerous to all wildlife as well as humans.”

The eagles also seem to be a target for shooting, which is illegal in South Africa

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