BLB statement on Vulture Poisoning Incidents by Motshereganyi Virat Kootsositse Director – BirdLife Botswana
BirdLife Botswana statement on the recent vulture poisoning incident
BirdLife Botswana, the BirdLife International Partner in Botswana, unequivocally condemns the recent poisoning of 537 highly endangered vultures by elephant poachers in the Central District of Botswana (CT1). It is inconceivable to lose so many highly endangered vultures in one day. African vulture populations cannot sustain such high losses. We need vultures. Vultures play a critical role in our environment by cleaning up carcasses that contain harmful diseases such as tuberculosis, rabies and anthrax. By doing this, vultures help prevent the spread of diseases amongst humans and animals, and they do all of this for free!
This devastating incident has resulted in the country’s highest recorded death toll of vultures associated with a single poisoning incident by poachers. It may even be the highest death toll of vultures from a single poisoning incident on the continent, rivalling a similar incident in the Caprivi area of Namibia in 2013, which had an estimated death toll of between 400-600 vultures. Although the Botswana government appears to be stepping up its anti-poaching initiatives, catastrophic vulture mortality continues to occur because of poisoning by poachers. Poachers directly poison vultures to stop them circling above carcasses of poached animals and thus signalling their illegal activity (sentinel poisoning).
Earlier this year, at least another 60 vultures were poisoned in the Tuli Block, eastern Botswana, and a further 80 were poisoned in an area bordering Moremi Game Reserve in north-west Botswana. These were both incidences of retaliatory poisoning, where farmers place poison on carcasses to kill predators, such as lion, that have killed their livestock, but end up killing vultures accidentally. Targeted and non-targeted poisoning of vultures is escalating at an alarming rate across the continent, with southern Africa experiencing the lion’s share of sentinel poisoning incidents. The fact that increasing numbers of vulture deaths from poisoning are closely associated with increasing ivory poaching is extremely concerning.
These incidences are disturbing. Agrochemicals used illegally to poison vultures, especially carbofuran-based substances, should be banned, and the use of safer alternatives encouraged. Although the Agrochemicals Act of 1999 and subsidiary 2003 legislation are in place to manage agrochemicals in Botswana, there is relatively little capacity to enforce. There is need for stakeholders to assist government efforts as much as possible. If such catastrophic episodes continue to occur across Africa, we may lose the race to save these iconic and vitally important species. Vultures are currently not receiving the global conservation support and recognition that many other highly threatened species are, which puts them on a back foot in terms of conservation organisations having the capacity to halt and reverse their declines.
BirdLife Botswana work tirelessly to tackle vulture poisoning in Botswana. In collaboration with the government of Botswana, other BirdLife partners and organisations in the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) region, we are working to address increasing elephant poaching; the main threat to the region’s declining vulture populations, through improving availability of information to aid management decision-making. Also by improving cross border collaboration, enforcement and building capacity for wildlife crime prosecution. Such transboundary initiatives are key elements of the Convention on Migratory Species Multi-species Action Plan to Conserve African-Eurasian Vultures (MsAP), developed with BirdLife International and other partnering organisations. The MsAP provides an essential framework for effective and coordinated actions to save and restore vulture populations.
The biggest challenge we are facing in Botswana, is the illegitimate nature of the poisoning events. This is something that community support systems, and education and awareness alone cannot effectively address. It is very much in the hands of the all stakeholders to help us save vultures and wildlife in Botswana, and indeed across the KAZA region. We all need to pull together on this, national governments and NGOs, to be truly effective.
BirdLife Botswana calls upon stakeholders to pay attention to the desperate plight of African vultures at relevant international policy forums. The 19th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) meeting due to take place in August this year, affords international Governments of CITES member states the opportunity to pass relevant policy decisions that will help to address the plight of vultures and other wildlife species. Only through high-level driven actions will African vultures get the attention and protection that they deserve from sentinel poisoning. It is the duty of those with the power to make a change, to stand up and make themselves heard on behalf of all wildlife species impacted by illegal activities in Africa.
Motshereganyi Virat Kootsositse
Director – BirdLife Botswana
BirdLife Botswana is a Non-Governmental Organisation that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. BirdLife Botswana is an official BirdLife International Partner in Botswana. Website: www.birdlifebotswana.org.bw