BOISE, Idaho – Chemicals that are used to poison and kill animals in Africa are cheap, easy to obtain, silent, and so effective that populations of many species, particularly vultures, are in a steep and swift decline, according to a report by Darcy Ogada, assistant director of The Peregrine Fund’s Africa programs.
Her paper, “The power of poison: pesticide poisoning of Africa’s wildlife,” was published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and is available online at:
“People use pesticides like carbofuran to kill predators that attack their livestock, to harvest fish and animals for food or for traditional medicine and magic, and to poach animals for ivory or other parts,” Ogada said. “It is imperative that national and international efforts be stepped up immediately to contain and stop this menace to wildlife.”
Carbofuran, which is the most widely abused pesticide in Africa, and other highly toxic pesticides that are banned in developed countries remain legal in Africa and other developing areas. Her research showed that laws make it illegal to hunt wildlife using poisons in 83% of African countries, yet the majority of poisonings go unreported. Lax regulation, corruption, and poor enforcement result in widespread abuse, she said.
Apart from the deliberate persecution of wildlife, secondary effects have an even greater toll on scavenging species. Research conducted in Namibia indicates that for every targeted predator, more than 100 non-target animals die from poisoning. Of these, vultures are the most susceptible because they forage over huge areas and their social feeding behaviors ensure that hundreds can be killed at a single poisoned carcass.
“Vulture numbers are plummeting and the effect on these birds and many other animals is unsustainable,” Ogada said.
Her recommended solutions include:
South Africa is the only country in Africa with an organized body dedicated to the problem of wildlife poisoning. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Poison Working Group estimated that more than 500,000 wild birds and animals die from poisoning alone in South Africa every year, the report said.
Ogada said that exposure to pesticides can also have a delayed effect. Pesticide residues can cause physical and behavioral impairments that reduce an animal’s ability to survive or reproduce.
She said that the use of traditional poisons that were obtained from plants and animals is waning due to easy access to inexpensive, highly toxic agricultural pesticides. All classes of synthetic pesticides have been used to poison wildlife, including organochlorines, organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethrins.
More than 1,500 vultures have been poisoned in the past two years by elephant-ivory poachers who lace elephant carcasses because circling vultures give away the location of their illicit activities. This method has been recorded in Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia in recent years, according to the report.
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