Elephant Poachers Poison Hundreds of Vultures to Evade Authorities

Elephant felled by poachers.  Photo courtesy of Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park
Elephant felled by poachers. Photo courtesy of Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park

The ongoing slaughter of Africa’s elephants is at record levels.  The situation has gotten out of hand in many countries, especially those lacking the resources to fight the increase in demand for ivory from the Far East.

Poachers lace the discarded elephant carcass with cheap poisons to kill vultures in mass.  Why? Because vultures circling in the sky alert wildlife authorities to the location of poachers’ activities.

With wildlife authorities struggling to save the remaining tuskers, there has been little attention paid to the other casualties of elephant poaching.  In what is now becoming commonplace across the continent, poachers lace the discarded elephant carcass with cheap poisons to kill vultures in mass.  Why? Because vultures circling in the sky alert wildlife authorities to the location of poachers’ activities.  Vultures are highly specialized to locate carcasses quickly so as to avoid competition from larger mammalian predators.  Poachers would prefer their nefarious activities to remain undetected to escape arrest.  So to a poacher capable of gunning down a 7-ton beast, poisoning several hundred vultures along the way is all in a days’ work.

Suspected elephant poacher arrested.  Photo courtesy of Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park
Suspected elephant poacher arrested. Photo courtesy of Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park

And if recent reports are anything to go by, many of Africa’s 11 species of vulture are in imminent danger of extinction.  In July this year up to 600 vultures died at a single elephant carcass that was poisoned near Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park.  There have been three other similar incidents in the wider region since the end of 2012, with each incident killing hundreds of vultures.

White-backed vultures poisoned at an elephant carcass.  Photo courtesy of Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park
White-backed vultures poisoned at an elephant carcass. Photo courtesy of Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park

Vultures are long-lived birds that reproduce very slowly, producing an average of one chick every other year.  Their current mortality rates are well above what is sustainable and populations of all species are crashing across the continent.

And if you don’t love vultures, you should.  They are nature’s most efficient and effective clean-up crew.  They go about their daily business without any fanfare.  Yet, in their little appreciated role, they are ensuring that our increasingly polluted planet remains a bit less polluted from the bacteria and other pathogens that accumulate on carcasses and at garbage dumps.  If you have ever seen the immaculately cleaned bones remaining from a carcass scavenged by vultures, you’ll know of the magic of these supremely adapted scavengers.


NEXTHow to Hold a Vulture While in the Grip of a Jackal


Darcy has worked for The Peregrine Fund’s Africa Program since 2010 and is based in central Kenya. Most of her current work focuses on the conservation of vultures and owls. She is particularly passionate about ending the scourge of wildlife poisoning and stopping the illegal trafficking of owl eggs for belief-based uses in East Africa. Prior to joining The Peregrine Fund she undertook a post-doctoral fellowship with the Smithsonian Institution based at Mpala Research Centre, Kenya. She has studied Mackinder’s Eagle Owls in central Kenya and conducted other research on birds and rodents. She volunteered for the Peace Corps in Niger in 1995 and got her start studying wildlife as a Bald Eagle Nestwatcher for New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. She came to Kenya in 2000 where she has lived ever since. Before moving to Kenya she was an avid skier and ice hockey player, now she spends her free time swimming, birding, and hiking and exploring Africa’s mountains with her son. She’s actively involved in a host of local conservation issues as a member of Nature Kenya’s Bird Committee and the Kenya Wildlife Service Bird Taskforce.
  • Rebecca L Welter

    …Just breaks my heart…for the elephants and the vultures.

  • Phillip H George

    “Thank you for the information!”
    “I wish the world would wake up and come to the aid of all the creatures!” Sadly that’s like SHOUTING IN THE WIND, At least I had a way to shout, Thanks Again!

  • Kev tanner

    There isn’t a punishment around that fits the crime that these poachers ( human beings?) commit. These type of pictures need to be pushed onto those in authority that can help in someway to protect these wonderful animals more than they are doing at present. I know they are awful photos but they need to be shown to a much wider audience to help towards the protection of these wonderful animals.

  • Carol Smith

    A truly horrendous crime that is becoming so very frequent in Africa as the poaching escalates. These birds have no chance of a future unless massive efforts by governments are made to ensure strong penalties for such activities. Africa will rue the day if it loses its vultures

  • sarah young

    i think it all should be stopped theres to much killing of animals and to much poaching going on .

  • Daniel Jost

    The authorities could become a little more creative by poisoning the poachers they catch, filming their slow death and publishing the videos online as a deterrent both for future candidates and buyers in the Far East…

  • Andy

    Poachers should be shot on sight, if I had my way, all perpetrators of crimes against animals would be dealt with in this way, from poachers, fox hunters to dog fighters.

  • Johan Krüger Haglert

    Just shoot the **** poachers already.

    Also **** people using animals in general.

  • Robert

    The authorities should make the poachers eat parts of the poisoned dead elephants and vultures.

  • gabi taylor

    I REALLY LIKE this group of commenters! Damn, you guys are beautiful! 😀

  • Karen Howard-Tripp

    Disgusting, so so e needs to start a petition tout pressure on the govt.

  • Rory Hamilton

    Forget going after the poachers. Stop what creates the industry – Criminal gangs in East Asia offer vast sums of cash to people in poverty. of course they’ll take the money. If there’s nobody to buy the ivory, the poachers will very quickly stop

  • Valentina

    I hate this kind of things, animals also have feelings.

  • Renu

    The poachers are also victims in that they are being exploited by the wealthy and the corporations who use the tusks. These are the guys to go after and providing those who carry out the poaching with another way of making a living will also help.

  • Simon Hjelm

    Doesn’t human kind have a common sense anymore? What kind of heartless people do such things as this!? Pisses me the *** of!

  • Lucy A

    Terrible double crimes towards elephants and birds.

    Let the vultures eat the poachers….oh no!! poor birds..they’d be poisoned by the rotten meat of these trashy *beings*.

  • Philip Brown

    Poachers are a lost cause. Re-education must begin in the schools. They have to learn to appreciate what natural wonders their countries possess and that they are the curators of their wildlife.

  • Umesh Bhatta

    I feel pity for the innocent creatures. In return to their gallantry service to the mankind we reward them by taking away their life. Why?? Absolute shame !!

  • Robert k Mulgrew

    Why o why can we not put pressure on the country’s who are importing ivory they are the cause of these senseless murders.

  • Shermin de Silva

    The poison is indiscriminate – not just vultures, but every other carnivore that takes nibble on a carcass could be affected. This is going to throw ecosystems dangerously out of whack.

  • Thomas Schneider

    I read this Story Long Time ago and it really saddens me, makes me become evil and so much else when i see that now even other animals which arent even Targets of poacher have to pay the Price because they could lead to them. Robert K Mulgwe how do we want to do this?what do we want to say or do to them to stop this? because all what they care about is the Money they can make with it so you can tell them what you want, they will always laugh you down.

  • Thomas Schneider

    Yes Philip Brown this is a good tool for People at School LIVING in the area of the wildlife. The same is done in area of a park where i volunteered a couple of times and it works pretty well but its not enough. the native People may not just be educated about the importance of wildlife but as well given a benefit like Job oppurtunities. this was the way where i worked as a governmental Programm started to Train local People for Jobs in the industry which of course followed the appreciations of wildlife by the People. it had it success. i m happy to be able to say that in those times some places remain around Holding good future for wildlife through this Kind of work. but like you say the reeducation really has to be concentrated at People of their countries the wildlife is living. all starts and attempts trying to educate People in other countries and all around the world which are not connected to african wildlife about its poaching Problem and the importance is pointless and to Forget. we tried this for decades and nowhere in the world ,accept of some of the native countries , the majority started to Change their thinking and care about wildlife. because they have no benefit of it and the thinking will never Change if People have no benefits of it, unfortunately.

  • Paul

    It the world wants to see less of this sort of thing that then people need to stop breeding like rabbits.

  • Namit Gupta

    This is shameful…Humans have become so inhuman to every single creature of world and destroying it… I feel sorry to be part of such species 🙁

  • K Webb

    the poachers must be poached. period. zero tolerance.

  • Pete Braun

    Forget arresting, authorities should just kill any suspected poacher on sight. Better still, have public executions of them to send a warning to any wannabe poachers as to what will happen to them.

  • renata flis


  • Anthony

    It amazes me that with the slaughter of Elephants, Rhino’s, Gorillas’ to the point of extinction by a ignorant greedy inhuman species such as poachers, that we the concerned human beings of this (our only) world, should place a hefty bounty on this sad, disgusting animal called the “poacher” to be brought in dead or alive…. Lets make them the target for game and profit.

  • Jaafar M. Kaura

    This is inhuman. How can a sane individual commit such a crime against innocent predators. May God protect us from such people and save this vast source’s for us.

  • jake

    you lot are nuts..i think this is disgusting but to say “kill the poachers” is less human than killing elephants…what about all the animals in your own countries that face extinction because of your own actions!..im not going to talk about neo-colonialism here, i fear it would go straight over your heads unlike the vulture s which will be totally extinct by 2050 largely as a result of dyclofenac not elephant poaching…peace

  • Stepniak annie

    Une horreur, le monde entier doit arrêter ces massacres d’animaux pour le plaisir des nantis

  • Keven

    They have already hired former US Navy Seals and Green Berets to come in and train them on gorilla warfare tactics and teach them how to kill the poachers efficiently. The American soldiers have gone from hired hands to animal rights activists one of them was quoted as saying “Our experiences have made us angry and heartbroken,” says Saw. “But most of all, they’ve left us motivated. Protecting the rhino has gone from a mission to a calling. The most dangerous soldier in any war is one who fights with his heart.” It’s about time someone started shooting back at these poachers to defend these helpless animals.

  • Barbara Du Plessis

    Unfortunately the poachers mostly are the little guys trying to earn a living to look after their families …. When u have so little and your family is starving why would they care about the life of an animal! That is where they are coming from — it’s a means to an ends! Yes it’s sad that they don’t see the true value of wildlife .. It’s awful that they kill.
    But think of all those far cats in positions of power in these African countries who assist them with the vehicles, weapons, transport of the ivory/horns and the export of the product! The little poacher has no ability to do this! The powerful African people in the right positions which allow the export/ smuggling of the items are the ones who sell the product to the eastern countries and they are the ones making the big bucks!! Greed and corruption in Africa is going to be the fall of Africa.
    I sometimes wonder how much protesting or awareness campaigns are actually done in the end user countries !! In. China and Korea or Taiwan whoever are the culprits for creating and promoting the demand for these items — are they really aware of the damage they are contributing to!?! Do they really really know with scientific reasoning that the rhino horn is no more of an sex drug than grinding and smoking your own hair or nails! Are these stories plastered all over their news like it is all over ours? Are they taught in school the tremendous decrease in African wildlife thanks to their ancient culture… Are there posters and billboards spread along their roads with stats and pictures of the death and destruction we are shown weekly of dead rhino, vultures, elephant ??
    I would like to know who’s trying to investigate who the big wigs fat cats are in each of our countries making the big bucks from these murders and who is going to put a 200% effort in to work hand in hand with the Eastern Countries authorities to curb this demand for the slaughter of our beloved animals!?!
    Sad to say that Killing the poacher isn’t going to stop the fat cats from wanting their pockets full and it won’t stop the demand .. You will just deprive his family of a father or a son trying to support his family in countries where they don’t have enough skills and education and unemployment is rife. Reality sucks doesn’t it! Stop the corrupt officials and stop the end user!

  • Sammy

    Isn’t is a shame that the wealth and resources of our planet are distributed so poorly that people will destroy beautiful things in order to survive. How can you punish someone for wanting to feed their family? This is discussing and so is killing the wild life…

  • S McCauley

    Poaching is not occurring just because some people want to feed their families. There are worldwide criminal syndicates involved. Now that the President of Kenya has welcomed China (whose president has built ivory carving factories and plans to build ivory carving schools) there will be even more poaching.

  • WJ

    Seriously, I am shocked and disgusted… Just to make a quick buck and those damned poachers must murder everything in the food chain. Why is it so hard to take action against them?

  • Achuu

    The problem of elephant poaching should be dealt with because it is a threat not only to elephants and vultures but to the food-web. It therefore requires an extensive approach to solving it; that looks beyond the scenes of killing including the entire processing and marking of ivory. At all stages and levels tight interventions should be created. In addition the social and economic causes of poaching should be handled at local levels so as to discourage these dangerous acts.

  • Big Eye

    Drones are the answer to poachers. Think about it.

  • Dee

    So sad that so many lives are killed for money. People keep saying that ivory goes to China. I am Chinese myself and I haven’t seen or heard ivory traded around. Common Chinese people just don’t go around to buy ivory. It’s so strange. Where did it really go? If to China, what kind of stuff is it made into and where is it traded at? Who are buying them? I think more details and investigation will help all of us to take actions to help protect the elephants.

  • Dinesh kumar.M

    Shoot them at sight, or death penalty for poachers and who goes against our nature and environment.

    KILL THOSE *******.

  • jj

    Source of the problem:


  • Faye

    This overall is very sad, a catch 22.
    Either the animals die or the people die.
    its ridiculous and upsetting the effects of their actions.
    but I cant help but think why do this?
    Cause/Effect of why they have to do this in the first place.
    A historically great country with a surplus of diamonds and gold raped continuously economically.
    until nothing remains left except for people living the best way they can.
    Its sad that historical savages live well and good while the founders of culture and greatness suffer here in this future.

  • Manish Vaidya

    It is very sad… our laws and it implementation is very poor…

    WILDLIFE CRIME (Discussion group)

  • Lovemore Mose

    I work for a non profit conservation organisation and I want to use this photo for our presentations and other information and publicity materials. Please advice me on the procedure to follow to request for the permission/right to use this photo.

  • Shridhar Shenoy B

    This is once again an ” evolutionary adaption” in human practice for their advantage. !! The ground realities can never change till each one knows why all on earth has to live for each other. Only education can change this. Let alone backwards countries but countries like India etc are ruined by infighting and other menace leading to least concern over socially responsible education where future generations are “brain washed” rather than making them socially responsible citizens.

  • Peter Müller

    GET THE CHINESE. All the pressure has to be put upon the Chinese authorities to stop the trade of ivory, rhino Horns, tiger parts etc WITHIN THE BORDERS OF CHINA. If THEY (they have the necessary Police force …) understand that a sharp repression of such trade is in their national interest – CHINA is having more and more a negeative Image because of this trade – they will act. The same applies to TAIWAN, VIETNAM, SINGAPUR and …ARABIC GULF COUNTRIES (where the rich guys are buying rhino horns and elephant tusks to adorn their living rooms …)

  • Peter Müller

    GET THE CHINESE; VIETANESE; TAIWANESE authorities: THEY shut their eyes in front of this trade happening WITHIN THEIR OWN BORDERS.

  • Peter Müller


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