SA vulture expert helps save 9 endangered vultures in Zim

2016-10-12 14:39
File: AP

File: AP

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Harare - It's been a bad week for vultures in this part of Africa but here's one story worth celebrating: nine vultures found poisoned in Zimbabwe have been saved, thanks in part to the dedication of a South African vulture expert.

Vanessa Bristow of Sentinel Ranch in the south of Zimbabwe has posted her account of the nerve-wracking race against time to save a group of poisoned vultures found by game scouts on the ranch on Sunday.

Nine of them were saved in an astonishing rescue mission that will hearten conservationists saddened by the just-reported deaths of 51 vultures (and lions, nyala, warthogs and fish eagles among other animals) in the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.

Vultures are more endangered in Africa than rhinos - but often receive considerably less attention.

Writing on Facebook on Tuesday, Bristow says Kerri Wolter of VulPro and Pieter Saunders of Magaliesburg Raptor Research drove through the night to reach the ranch after Bristow contacted Wolter with news of the crisis. 

"By the time they arrived, after 13:00, two more vultures had died (the body of one Cape vulture was retrieved along with the 11 sick birds). We were racing against the clock," Bristow wrote in a post that has been shared by VulPro.

Traditional medicine 

The sickest birds were immediately treated with activated charcoal and rehydrates.

Bristow says Wolter insisted on getting up after just two hours sleep to treat the other birds.

Happily the nine birds - one Lappet-faced vulture, two Cape vultures and six white-backed vultures - all survived and were released on Monday morning. All three vultures are on the IUCN's "Red List" of threatened species.

Paying tribute to head game scout Fewture Hoko for the first aid he gave to the birds in the bush, Bristow said on her FB page that the poison was an organophosphate (which can mean it was an insecticide or a pesticide).

It's not clear exactly what the motive of the poisoning was. Sometimes cattle farmers lace a carcass with poison to trap a predator like a hyena - and inadvertently kill a host of vultures too. Poachers also may lace animal carcasses to deliberately kill vultures so that the sight of these majestic birds circling overhead will not give away the poachers. 

Vultures are also valued for their body parts in traditional medicine and may be deliberately killed for this illegal trade.

In January, 41 white-backed vultures were found dead - from poisoning - on the Zimbabwe side of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation area.

Wildlife lovers have been paying tribute to all those involved in the vulture rescue story on Facebook.

Posted Duncan Butchart: "Such enormous respect for Kerri Wolter and her team... just so tireless and committed in the face of this ongoing poisoning (and electrocution) horror. Well done to you Vanessa Bristow and your team for playing such a vital role in this incident."

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  sa  |  southern africa  |  birds  |  conservation

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