Play a role in saving vultures

2017-06-13 06:03
The White-backed Vulture is one of eight African vulture species that is on the decline. PHOTO: Richard Steyn

The White-backed Vulture is one of eight African vulture species that is on the decline. PHOTO: Richard Steyn

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AFRICA is experiencing a vulture crisis. The White-backed Vulture is one of eight African vulture species that is on the decline. Poisoning and traditional medicine pose substantial threats to the survival of these ecologically essential birds. They’re essential as they dispose of dead animals that would otherwise be a breeding ground for diseases. A vulture is able to metabolise and eradicate dangerous pathogens, in doing so it is cleansing an environment. The disappearance of vultures means a rise in feral dog and rat numbers. These scavengers, being unable to process these pathogens, become carriers of diseases and are indirectly responsible for myriad human deaths.

The extinction of our vultures (arguably nature’s most important scavengers) would result in dire ecological, economic and human costs. If unchecked, diseases such as rabies, anthrax and the plague would run rampant. It is estimated that between 1993 and 2006, the decline of vultures in India has cost that economy $34 billion, and caused nearly 50 000 human deaths. India has the highest rate of rabies infection in the world, and dog bites are the major contributing factor.

The decimation of vultures in India was inadvertently brought about by livestock carcasses containing an anti-inflammatory drug called Diclofenac. The drug given to sick cattle is fatal to vultures. The current increase in elephant and rhino poaching has led to an increase in vulture mortality. Poachers are poisoning carcasses in order to eliminate vultures and thus avoid detection. Vultures soaring overhead are great indicators of illegal activities.

Poachers are also poisoning carcasses to fuel the demand for animal body parts used in traditional medicine and customs — lion bones, leopard skins and vulture parts to name a few. Traditional healers prescribe “vulture” for improved intelligence and foresight. It is widely believed that vulture muthi will provide clairvoyant powers.

Poisoning also includes unintentional killing. Vultures will feed on poison-laced carcasses intended for livestock predators. Regardless of the reason, these endangered birds need our help, and fast.

To help address these issues Wildlife Act Fund has initiated community conservation projects around game reserves in Zululand to assist the community in understanding the importance of conservation areas and the need for protecting endangered species.

Educating future generations is integral. Since 2012 over 1 630 children and 130 adults from 25 schools have participated in our four-day bush-camps, and 10 220 adults have been reached in our community conservation awareness presentations.

Wildlife Act Fund has teamed up with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Endangered Wildlife Trust to help conserve the KZN vulture population by forming the Zululand Vulture Project (ZVP). Since its inception, the ZVP has fitted satellite tracking devices to 21 vultures which aid in monitoring their movements and understanding them as a species.

This equipment allows us to monitor home ranges, flight patterns and problem areas.

If you would like to help conserve our vultures there are many areas which need support. The easiest way is to spread the word and tell your friends about the severity of the vulture crisis.

— Wildlife Act.

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