Victoria Falls

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Can vultures survive in KAZA?

Can vultures survive in KAZA?

Can vultures survive in KAZA?

Alongside the common white-backed vulture we can sometimes see the much rarer Cape griffon. This latter is larger and comes from the south, as it breeds in South Africa, Lesotho and southern Botswana. It has taken the attention of conservationists for 40 years, and is currently defined as ‘vulnerable’ by BirdLife International. Vulnerable, that is, to various threats thrown at it by humans.

Could the white-backed vulture, numbering in the KAZA area in the low thousands, be considered as threatened in anyway? After all, we can see it on almost every day of the year. It is not subject to the same threats, and certainly not in the same force, as suffered by the larger Cape griffon, for example: declining food supply, and electrocution and collision with overhead powerlines are barely in its orbit.

But in the last couple of years or so, poisoning of carcasses has caused deaths of many hundreds of vultures, almost entirely white-backed vultures. On the one hand elephants have been poached for their tusks, and the poachers have then laced the carcass with a chemical in order to kill off the vultures which give away their position. The worst ever incident known to us occurred recently in the Caprivi.

On the other hand, vultures can be deliberately poisoned so that their body parts can be used by some locals for superstitious purposes, and possibly for traditional medicine. At the scene, this action can be immediately recognised because the vultures are upside down and have their heads cut off. (At a poached animal poisoning, the birds will die face down, and are intact).

These two factors set the scene in southern Africa. In eastern Africa vultures are accidentally poisoned when they eat carcasses intended for lions. And in western Africa, vultures are seriously in decline due to being eaten as food (!) and due to the muti (‘medicine’) trade. Our vultures cannot withstand this amount of poisoning; deliberate or accidental, it still kills them. At this rate and no matter how BirdLife International labels them, vultures could be poisoned out of existence.

The good news is that there is a lot of conservation action for vultures throughout Africa now. The most obvious sign of this is to see a white-backed vulture sporting a numbered yellow tag on its wing. Please report the sighting!

Related reading:
Wingbeats over the KAZA (Issue 16, March 2014)
The 'Vulture Man' (Issue 16, March 2014)

Read more articles from this issue:
Main menu (Issue 16, March 2014)
Full contents listing
Birds & Birding