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Africa’s vultures poisoned for body parts use in traditional medicine

A recent study conducted by BirdLife International for its partner International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) shows that 29% of Africa’s vultures have been poisoned by people looking to use their body parts in traditional medicine.

African witchdoctors and fortune-tellers requesting their customers to bring ‘precious’ birds for ‘spiritual treatment’ is a common sight in many cities across Africa.

Furthermore, poachers hunting for elephant’s ivory have also incidentally targeted vultures. The aim is to lure the birds to feed on dead poisoned elephants to eradicate the traces of elephant killings.

The study shows that 61% of vultures have now disappeared after feeding on carcasses of poisoned elephants left to die by poachers hunting for ivory.

Illegal wildlife poisoning can cause a chain reaction of disastrous effects in the environment, for example one poisoned elephant carcass can cause the death of up to 500 ‘critically endangered’ vultures, Julius Arinaitwe, regional director for Africa at BirdLife International, said.

Conservationists have warned that if drastic steps were not taken to aggressively shield the remaining birds, Africa could be left without vultures in the near future.

Cambridge-based BirdLife International, which has a regional office in Nairobi, has called for the swift implementation of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) guidelines.

Some of these guidelines include developing and enforcing appropriate legislation to control, ban or restrict the sale, storage, distribution, use and disposal of toxic chemicals used in the indiscriminate killing of wildlife.

Birdlife also hosted an anti-poisoning training session this week at the Ilkeliani Camp near the famous Masai Mara Reserve 280 km west of the capital Nairobi.

The aim is to focus on identifying the signs and symptoms of wildlife poisoning, prompt reporting, incident scene treatment, collection of good information and sterilising the scene to prevent further poisoning.

Vultures’ contribution to society includes cleaning up carcasses bare before disease spores can form, and in the process reducing the spread of diseases like Anthrax, rabies, tuberculosis, botulism and brucellosis.

(with the assistance of Obaka Torto and BirdLife, additional reporting and final editing by Issa Sikiti)

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Photo: African vultures gather at the Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya. credit: 123RF

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