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By Fred Kockott
Wildlife ACT response team with the bodies of 13 white-backed vultures, poisoned for the traditional medicine trade. Wildlife ACT / Mongabay<p>Nearby was the body of an impala — snared, killed, and laced with poison. The rangers burned all the contaminated carcasses to ash to remove the poison from the ecosystem.</p><p>It is the fourth vulture poisoning incident in northern Zululand this year, bringing the total recorded number of vultures harvested for body parts in this region alone to 53. The actual number of birds killed is believed to be much higher as many incidents are never detected.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.ewt.org.za/what-we-do/what-we-do-species/vultures-for-africa/" target="_blank">Endangered WildLife Trust's (EWT) Vultures for Africa Programme</a> manager, Andre Botha, said it was difficult to quantify how many vultures are deliberately poisoned for body parts.</p><p>According to records kept by EWT, more than 1,200 vultures have been deliberately poisoned in Southern and Eastern Africa this year. Culprits include poachers who poison the carcasses of elephant and other game in an apparent effort to conceal illegal activities from rangers. These poisonings are referred to as "sentinel poisonings", as vultures circling over poached animals alert rangers to the killings.</p>
Poisoned vulture: more than 1,200 vultures have been deliberately poisoned in Southern and Eastern Africa in 2019. Wildlife ACT / Mongabay<p>"Vultures provide critically important ecosystem services by cleaning up carcasses thus reducing the spread of dangerous diseases such as anthrax and rabies and resulting in highly significant economic and human health benefits," said Brent Coverdale, an animal scientist for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife at the symposium. "We really can't afford to lose them."</p><p>As vultures are protected by law, it is illegal to possess or kill any of the six vulture species found in South Africa. Nevertheless, deliberate killings continue.</p><p>Roberts said the latest poisoning incident had been reported to local police.</p><p>"We are hoping this leads to an arrest," said Roberts. "If the illegal harvest of these birds is not halted, then extinction may be just around the corner and the services that they provide within the ecosystem will be lost forever."</p><p>As part of a bid to save vulture populations, managers of conservation areas and private game reserves in South Africa are collaborating to <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/lift-off-for-first-african-vulture-safe-zones/" target="_blank">create safe havens for existing vulture populations</a>.</p><p><em><em>Fred Kockott is the founding director of <a href="https://rovingreporters.co.za/" target="_blank">Roving Reporters</a>, a journalism training agency that focuses on environmental, social and justice issues.</em></em></p><p><em>Additional reporting by Mlu Mdletshe, Roving Reporters.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/alarm-over-mass-vulture-poisoning-in-south-africa/" target="_blank">Mongabay</a>.</em></p>
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