37 vultures poisoned

2013-11-26 00:00

GAME rangers last week found the carcasses of 37 white-backed vultures that had been poisoned in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi nature reserve. The heads of 29 of the birds had been hacked off.

Manager of the vulture programme at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, André Botha, said the heads would likely be used for muthi. The trust’s website explains that many rural cultures in South Africa believe the eyes of the far-sighted birds will bring good fortune when gambling or guessing the lotto numbers.

Botha said the vultures probably ate from a poisoned elephant carcass. The elephant had died a few weeks earlier from natural causes and was lying near one of the reserve’s fence lines.

He said the death of the birds was a huge setback for the park because white-backed vultures are a threatened species. Ezemvelo KZN said in a statement, from the carcasses that could be identified, three birds were adults, nine were sub-adults and 17 were young. The age of eight birds could not be determined due to their advanced state of decomposition.

Dr Dave Druce, ecologist at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park, said the loss of the birds will impact on the future breeding potential of white-backed vultures in Zululand. The dead adults also meant that a number of chicks would die of hunger in their nests.

Ezemvelo said it had opened a criminal case with the police and the carcasses will be tested to see what poison was used.

In July this year, 48 Cape vultures were poisoned with sheep carcasses near Underberg. From what could be established the investigation into this bird massacre is nearing completion and arrests are expected soon.

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