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February 21, 2019

Fears of extinction as endangered vultures killed

A vulture at Masai Mara Reserve / REUTERS
A vulture at Masai Mara Reserve / REUTERS
The continued poisoning of species of critically endangered vultures will soon see them extinct, four organizations warned yesterday.

Birdlife International, The Peregrine Fund, Nature Kenya and the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust expressed their concerns yesterday in a joint statement saying poisoning has killed nearly 40 Critically Endangered vultures adjacent to the world famous Masai Mara National Reserve.

"Prolonged and worsening poisoning activities in the country targeting predators, means vultures are facing a severe threat of extinction,"they said.

Read: Nairobi Park Diary: The endangered cranes

 Retaliatory poisoning usually occurs when livestock is attacked by predators such as lions, hyenas and leopards.

Livestock farmers resort to lacing their dead livestock with easily accessible agro-chemicals with the intention to kill predators.

However, vultures that scavenge gregariously on dead animals succumb to the poison and hundreds die as a result.

 The dead vultures were reported in some of the conservancies bordering the areas north of the Masai Mara.

 These conservancies have been instrumental in creating habitat for wildlife such as carnivores, while also leading to increased tourism potential and income for local Maasai communities.

Maasai community have been benefiting through job creation and revenue from leasing their land for wildlife and tourism.

The four organizations said about 40 vultures have been observed over two-week period along a radius of 15 kilometers from the village of Kishermoruak since February 9 this year.

This is about 30 km north-east of Masai Mara’s Sekenani Gate.

Initial findings suggest that the vultures consumed a poisoned livestock carcass outside the conservancies and flew in and were found dead inside some of the conservancies.

Read: Power project puts Hell's Gate birds in danger

So far, a point source of the Maasai Mara poisoning has not yet been identified.

These vulture deaths coincide with a spate of other retaliatory poisonings across Africa where on February 15, six lions and 72 vultures were reported to have been poisoned in the Ruaha-Katavi landscape, Tanzania.

On February 25, 103 vultures in Mbashene, Southern Mozambique were killed after feeding on a poisoned elephant carcass and 50 more were poisoned in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.

 Program Coordinator of the Masai Mara Wildlife and Conservancies Association Eric Ole Reson said the greatest challenge is that vultures travel vast distances and can transcend borders into Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sudan.

"But poisoning is happening at our doorstep and we are losing our country’s natural heritage at an alarming rate. The vulture problem is not really a vulture problem but a predator problem and a handful of people are killing the messenger (vultures) which does not bode well for a healthy environment”,he said.

Reson said there is need to appreciate the vital ecosystem services that vultures provide – healthy vulture populations mean healthy people, wildlife and livestock.

 Director of Global Conservation Strategy of The Peregrine Fund Dr Munir Virani said people are poisoning because they have grievances.

We are listening to them to help reduce poisoning levels and reverse the declining trend of vulture populations,Virani said.

Virani said they identify key poisoning hot spots, where they focus their conservation interventions to create champions and significantly reduce poisoning to zero levels.

This requires a drastic change in people’s attitudes and behavior and will take time,” he said  .

 Vulture populations globally are declining rapidly primarily due to intentional and unintentional poisoning but also from habitat loss, energy expansion and lack of food and as a result are considered one of the most threatened groups of animals in the world.

Africa has eleven species of which six are found nowhere else.

Six of the eight species that occur in Kenya are highly threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

This means that without conservation intervention, these species have very little chance of survival and may possibly go extinct within our lifetimes.

 Vultures provide vital ecosystem services in African savannahs by recycling nutrients, rapidly consuming carcasses and keeping diseases at bay. Keeping nature clean is vital for human and environmental health, and in doing so, they play a key role in sustaining the charismatic animals that are vital in maintaining Kenya’s tourism industry.

 

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