We are sad to report that a recent poisoning incident in Zululand has resulted in the death of at least eleven Vultures. Seven critically endangered African White-backed, three endangered Lappet-faced and one critically endangered White-headed vulture, where all found dead at the scene.
The Zululand Vulture Project was notified about the incident on Friday and immediately initiated poison response protocols. The Zululand Vulture Project is a collaborative partnership between various conservation organisations whose aims are to ensure the survival of vulture within the Zululand region. Regular Poison Response Training, facilitated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has empowered a number of Wildlife ACT and other conservation staff to deal with such situations.
Our Emergency Response team were first on the scene, and together with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, managed and carried out the entire operation. A thorough sweep of the area was done by air and on ground to gauge the extent of the damage and to ensure swift action could be taken to mitigate any further losses. Killing or harming of any Vulture species is a criminal offence and together with the local Stock Theft Unit, an official case has been opened.
Southern Africa’s Vulture populations are in serious decline. Of the five Savannah species found in Zululand, all are classified as either endangered or critically endangered. Current trends suggest that all breeding pairs of Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures will be locally extinct within the next few years.
Wildlife ACT’s Emergency Respond Fund manager, PJ Roberts and senior monitor, Dani Theron were the first to arrive at the scene and PJ had this to say,
“It’s a truly shocking thing to experience. Walking to the site of the incident and coming across bird after bird lying decomposing on the floor. The damage caused by such a senseless act is massive and having the assistance of Zap-Wing to help gauge the extent of the damage surrounding the site was vital. The Vulture breeding season has already commenced, so it is likely that some of these birds may well have been resident breeding individuals”
PJ continued on to say, “The importance of Vultures to the ecosystem really cannot be overstated. These critically endangered animals provide an incredible clean up service to the environment. Identifying carcasses from kilometers away, these birds swiftly move in and can finish a carcass in a matter of minutes. By Vultures removing decomposing animals from the landscape, humans are ensured a clean environment free of carcass-borne diseases.”
As part of an ongoing monitoring project in the province identification tags and rings allow us to track Vulture movements. One of the Vultures found had been tagged and was close to breeding age, and had likely returned to the area with the intent to breed.
We encourage the public to report any tagged Vulture sightings in Southern Africa to Project Vulture at the following link: http://projectvulture.org.za/report-vulture-sighting/
Please record the identification number and species (if possible) along with the GPS (or physical) location. If you can, please take a photograph of the bird with the ID tag displayed.
“The incredible efficiency of these birds at feeding time also makes them very susceptible to poisonings such as these. Worse still is that these poisons often don’t just kill once but anything that touches or feeds a laced carcass continues to become a source of collateral damage for days and weeks to come. For that reason, a fast response to these incidences is very important and it is necessary that all possibly contaminated biomass is burnt promptly”, PJ said.
“All we can ask is that people remain vigilant of any signs of poisoning. Sometimes it can just be a scavenger stumbling on the ground that is an early sign of a poisoning incident. Reporting this to us can allow for a fast response and possibly help save 100’s of birds and mammals.”