An international team of researchers, including leading scientists from The Peregrine Fund, the University of St Andrews, and Hawk Conservancy Trust, say African vultures are likely to qualify as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s global threat criteria.
In a report published today, in the scientific journal Conservation Letters, scientists from across Africa, Europe, and North America have published the first continent-wide estimates of decline rates in African vultures: and find that many national parks and game reserves appear to offer vulture species in Africa little effective protection.
Scavengers such as vultures are essential to a healthy ecosystem; without them carcasses are largely consumed by mammalian scavengers such as dogs and jackals and this can increase levels of disease transmission, with possibly dire consequences for human health.
Dr. Darcy Ogada of The Peregrine Fund and lead author of the study, said: “Large declines of Africa’s vultures should ring alarm bells due to their immense ecological importance. Vultures are a vital component of a healthy environment, especially in Africa, where ‘free’ ecosystem services such as disposal of carcasses and other waste products remain the norm. If we don’t take urgent steps to save these birds, and in particular to curtail wildlife poisoning, we should expect long-term consequences for the environment, as well as for humans in Africa.
What makes our results so concerning is that national parks and game reserves appear to offer these birds very little effective protection. Because vultures are so mobile and can easily travel hundreds or thousands of miles, decline rates were worryingly high even within protected areas.
African vultures face multiple threats. They include incidental and deliberate poisoning, the illegal trade in vulture body parts for traditional medicine, killing for bushmeat, mortality caused by power lines and wind turbines, and a reduction in habitat and the availability of food from wild animal populations.
The study suggests that the greatest quantifiable threat to Africa’s vultures is poisoning, which accounted for 61% of all reported deaths. African vultures are often the unintended victims of poisoning incidents, in which carcasses are baited with highly toxic agricultural pesticides to kill livestock predators. However the study also shows that the recent rapid increase in elephant and rhino poaching throughout Africa has led to a surge in the number of vulture deaths recorded, as carcasses have been poisoned specifically to eliminate vultures, whose overhead circling might otherwise reveal the poachers’ illicit activities.
Dr. Munir Virani, the Africa Program Director for The Peregrine Fund said, “Saving Africa’s vultures from extinction will require unstinting support from African Governments. In addition, outreach programs geared toward pastoral communities in East Africa, such as the Maasai Mentors for Vulture Conservation project The Peregrine Fund is leading in Kenya, will be critical in ensuring that they perceive vultures as a vital and integral component of ecosystems and economies”.
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