BOISE, Idaho – Dr. Munir Virani, director of The Peregrine Fund’s Africa programs, was elected to a key leadership role at the Pan African Vulture Summit, where scientists, other conservationists, and government officials gathered recently to address the alarming decline in vulture populations across the continent.
Virani was elected as the African Representative of the Vulture Specialist Group of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Species Survival Commission, working with the Endangered Wildlife Trust and The Peregrine Fund and its partners in the African Raptor Network. He will chair the African Steering Committee, comprised of regional representatives that will oversee implementation of the Pan African Vulture Strategy.
The group will focus on Africa’s 11 vulture species to determine the extent of the problem and to devise conservation plans. Seven of those species currently are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- In East Africa, vulture populations have declined 65 percent in 20 years.
- In West Africa, they have decreased more than 90 percent in 30 years.
- In North Africa, vultures are gone from most of their former range.
- In southern Africa, the 30-year decline is significant.
The primary culprit is poisoning, Virani said. Vultures die after eating poisoned bait meant to kill lions and hyenas that attack cattle and other domestic livestock. Other causes include habitat destruction, food shortages, power lines and wind farms, and killing for superstitious or criminal activity.
“The loss of vultures would be devastating for Africa’s people and wildlife,” Virani said. “The aim of our group is to come up with a broad framework for conservation that will work across all national and cultural boundaries. It is a huge challenge but one that we must address swiftly and effectively.”
Representatives of 32 organizations at the international summit, held April 16-20 in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, signed a resolution calling on governments throughout Africa to support vulture conservation by enacting conservation plans, prosecuting those engaged in illegal killing and trade, and reducing threats to vultures through regulation, research, and education.
Vultures are nature’s cleanup and recycling crew, Virani said. They quickly consume the carcasses of dead animals that might otherwise spread disease and contaminate land and water resources. Recent research shows that other scavenging animals rely on vultures to indicate the presence of a food source, making them a vital part of a fragile ecosystem, he said.
Virani has worked for The Peregrine Fund since 1998. He is a member of the board of directors of the Raptor Research Foundation and is active in the Kenya Bird Committee, Raptor Research Foundation, and Raptor Working Group.
Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, he earned master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Leicester (U.K.). In 2000, Virani helped evaluate the problem of declining vulture populations in India, Nepal, and Pakistan and contributed to The Peregrine Fund’s discovery of the veterinary drug diclofenac as the cause of vulture deaths in South Asia.
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