Many children who grow up to become biologists are inspired by articles in National Geographic Magazine. As one of the leading public outlets for sharing scientific discoveries, it is truly a dream come true to have your work featured in an issue with the glossy, full-color, full-page photographs and writing that whisks you off into another land. The Peregrine Fund’s biologists who work in East Africa but are based out of Boise, Idaho are living that dream this week. The January edition of the magazine hits newsstands today and features their work with critically endangered vultures.
The article, “Vultures: More Vital Than Vile” couldn’t come at a more dire moment. Dr. Darcy Ogada, Assistant Director of Africa Programs says vultures “are the most threatened avian functional group in the world.” Six of eight African species of vulture are endangered, and thanks in part to Ogada’s work, four species were up-listed to Critically Endangered by the IUCN’s Red List earlier this year.
Dr. Ogada, colleague Dr. Munir Virani, and a team of collaborating organizations have recently shown that poisoning accounts for 61 percent of vulture deaths across Africa. Accidental poisoning of vultures occurs when local livestock keepers who will poison a carcass to kill lions and hyenas to protect their cattle from predation. Purposeful poisoning occurs when poachers poison a carcass to kill vultures who might give away their locations by circling above freshly poached animals. Earlier this week, three of the famous Marsh Pride lions featured on Big Cat Diary were killed after eating a poison-laced cow carcass. Eleven endangered white-backed vultures also died from feeding on the carcass.
The National Geographic article goes into detail on how and why poisoning has become such a large issue for vulture conservation as well as describing why vultures are worth saving. When vultures are missing from an ecosystem, disease ridden carcasses begin piling up and can cause humans to become sick. “Vultures can consume anthrax, botulism, rabies, and many more pathogens that are harmful to livestock and humans,” says Virani. Losing a population of vultures can cause ecological and economic devastation for communities across the region.
Ogada and Virani have been working diligently with local communities to educate them on the value of vultures and provide non-fatal methods to control predators. One particularly effective method of protecting cattle Virani has encouraged is to place solar-powered flashing lights around the livestock bomas (fortified fenced-in areas) to scare lions and hyenas away. Since installation of these lights, lion attacks have decreased by 90 percent and The Peregrine Fund is identifying ways to help further reduce costs of these predator entry deterrent systems.
The odds against survival of African vultures may seem insurmountable, but The Peregrine Fund has been successful at saving species from extinction in the past. Our work with the Peregrine Falcon, the Mauritius Kestrel, and numerous other species shows that when people care and work together, species can be saved. “Bringing national attention to this problem is the first step in saving these amazing birds,” says Ogada.
To read the full National Geographic Magazine article online, please visit http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/vultures-text
|Director of Community Engagement|