Severe Threat to Vultures Highlighted

THE severe threat faced by vultures in Namibia and elsewhere on the continent was put under the spotlight last weekend at the ‘Flight for the Plight of Vultures Air show’.

In recent years, the mass poisoning of vultures by poachers trying to remain undetected by authorities, has caused increasing concern amongst environmentalists who fear that vultures could face extinction in the wild.

Hosted by the Rare and Endangered Species Trust (REST) of Namibia, the event attracted hundreds of visitors with the main goal of creating awareness.

REST founder and manger Maria Diekmann said that the while the event was “a fantastic fun day … its real purpose was to create awareness of a terrible trend currently taking place in Namibia and all of southern Africa”.

In particular, Diekmann pointed out that ruthless poachers have devised new ways, in which to prevent their activities from being detected, which include killing vultures attracted to the carcasses of poached wildlife, such as elephants.

“Elephant poachers have begun lacing killed elephant carcasses with poison after cutting out the tusks for the illegal ivory trade. Vultures land at the carcass in small numbers, but when they fly off together after feeding, their numbers can be in the hundreds. Poachers have realized that this fly-off often alerts authorities to the poaching incident”.

To prevent this natural alert system, poachers poison the carcasses, preventing the birds from flying off and dying instead.

Diekmann referred to a much-publicized incident in 2013, where at least 600 vultures were killed on a poached elephant carcass. “Since it was breeding season, it is believed that almost 100 percent of the chicks were then later abandoned by the remaining parent when they were forced to find food for survival”.

She expressed concern about the number of elephant poached in Namibia in during the past few years, which increase the chances of vulture poisonings.

According to reports from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) in 2012, 78 elephants were poached in Namibia and 38 in 2013. Diekmann however believes the number for 2013 is much higher.

Diekmann added that another mass poisoning took place in Zimbabwe in 2013 and only recently, vultures were poisoned via a carcass in Botswana, near the Namibian border.

Through weekly feedings at the “vulture restaurant” at REST, Diekmann says it has become evident that there has been a decline in local vulture numbers.

She said, “initial research is indicating that perhaps over 50 percent or more of the entire vulture population has been lost in one year”. She said that conservationists from Namibia, Botswana and South Africa are urgently seeking funding in order to take immediate actions to address the problem. Vultures, she explained, form an essential part of an eco-system, as they” prevent the spread of disease in our wildlife, domestic animals and human populations, so the economy of Namibia depends on them in their natural environment more than any other animal”. She said they are “vital” animals, partly because “they may be completely immune to diseases such as anthrax”.

Members of the Namibian Air Force, private flight operators and South Africa aircraft manufacturers, amongst others, attended the event and entertained the crowd.

The audience was entertained by a variety of air maneuvers, including a group of Desert Sky divers.

Diekmann said the event attracted wide support from local people and businesses in Otjiwarongo, as well as support from Air Namibia and Namibian tourist organizations. The next event is slotted for 2016.

Source : The Namibian