Africa
16 Nov 2016

Poisoned to extinction: a bold new approach to saving Africa's vultures

Vultures poisoned near Masai Mara © E. Reson
Vultures poisoned near Masai Mara, Kenya © E. Reson
By Obaka Torto

Illegal wildlife poisoning can cause a chain reaction of disastrous effects in the environment, for example one poisoned elephant carcass can cause the death of up to 500 Critically Endangered vultures. To prevent this from happening, a rapid response is needed. For the first time, an anti-poisoning training event is being held in Kenya, organised by BirdLife and a consoritum of concerned conservation bodies which aims to reduce the deaths of wildlife.

This historic training event is being held 15-16 November 2016, bringing together 37 participants representing 30 local conservation partners at Ilkeliani Camp, bordering the world famous Masai Mara Reserve. The important training will focus on identifying the signs and symptoms of wildlife poisoning, prompt reporting, incident scene treatment, collection of good information and sterilising the scene to prevent further poisoning.

Vultures, being nature’s most important clean-up crew, are the hardest hit by indiscriminate poisoning, typically targeted at predators such as lions and hyenas. Wildlife rangers based on the ground are usually first to notice poisoning incidents, but are not always aware of the signs, symptoms, and steps to take following an incident. This course will provide training and solutions to enable rangers and others working on the ground in the Mara to limit the impact of individual poisoning events.

Julius Arinaitwe, Regional Director for Africa at BirdLife International explained:

“The unique abilities of vultures that make them very effective scavengers, such as the keen eyesight that helps them spot carcases and signal to others over large distances makes them especially vulnerable poisoning events.  For example one poisoned elephant carcass has been known to cause the death of up to 500 Critically Endangered vultures drawn from tens of kilometres away. BirdLife therefore considers this training to be of paramount importance in efforts to halt vulture declines across Africa.”

This workshop is the result of an ongoing collaboration between BirdLife International, the Mara Lion Project, Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) and The Peregrine Fund, and is part of a larger project aimed at developing a formal poisoning response protocol in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service. Co-hosts and funders of the event also include the San Diego Zoo, Fondation Segré, Nature Kenya, and African Wildlife Foundation.

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Rangers identifying poisoned White-backed and Rüppell's vultures © J. Wahome

This training will become a catalyst for a postive chain reaction for vultures: following this two-day workshop, trainees will commit to disseminating their learning by delivering subsequent training to their respective teams. Each trainee will also become a main point of contact within his/her local area for all issues relating to wildlife poisoning. Also, it is the hope of these organisations and projects that a formal, systematic response to poisoning incidents will deter people from this destructive practice and help reduce the number of wildlife dying from illegal poisoning.

You can support BirdLife's vital work in Africa to save vultures today by donating and by spreading the love for vultures amongst your friends, colleagues and family.