Vultures butchered in Namibia

2013-08-07 00:00

THE poisoning of between 400 and 600 vultures in Namibia has sent shock waves through conservation circles.

The mass extermination took place at the Bwabwata National Park in Caprivi.

André Botha, the chairperson of the Game Rangers Association of Africa at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said details were still sketchy.

It seemed that elephant poachers had poisoned the vultures to prevent them from alerting game rangers to the position of a carcass.

Elephant poaching has recently increased alarmingly in Namibia, as is the case elsewhere in Africa.

Botha said most of the vultures that died were probably endangered white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus). The area also hosted four other vulture species, including the endangered hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus).

One of the dead birds was a young white-backed vulture that had been tagged last year near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, more than 1 000 km south of the Caprivi strip.

Botha said this showed what a wide impact poisoning of carrion birds had on an entire region.

The number of dead birds that were counted around the carcass in Caprivi could rise steeply, as the vultures were in the middle of their breeding season and many chicks could die of hunger.

It is also possible that a lot of the birds had succumbed to the poison in neighbouring Botswana or Angola.

Botha said if 600 vultures had died, it would mean more vultures had been killed in one day than all the rhinos that had been shot for their horns this year.

Against this background, poachers who killed vultures had to be punished as heavily as rhino poachers, he said.

If one added the recent poisoning in KwaZulu-Natal and a similar case earlier this year in Mozambique, vultures may become very endangered.

● The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red Data List shows white-backed and hooded vultures are “endangered”, while white rhinoceros are only listed as “near endangered”, which is two categories further away from extinction.

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