Mass Poisonings Devastate African Wildlife, Incite “Urgent Measures”

The recent mass poisoning of vultures has prompted the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism to propose urgent legislation that would ban over-the-counter sales of poisons and pesticides. (Read more: Elephant Poachers Poison Hundreds of Vultures to Evade Authorities)

Further investigations have revealed that over 1,000 vultures may have perished in this single incident.  While this action on the part of the Namibian government is to be applauded, other poisoning incidents indicate the need for urgent continent-wide measures to combat the widespread use of poisons and pesticides to kill wildlife.

White-backed vulture dying from poisoning. Photo by S. Thomsett
White-backed vulture dying from poisoning. Photo by S. Thomsett

Just this month the poisoning of 87 elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe made international headlines.  The authorities reported that the salt pans that the elephants rely on were laced with cyanide.  The latest update indicates that six men have been arrested with a cache of tusks.

Sadly these are not isolated incidents.

Toxic pesticides (e.g. carbofuran, strychnine) are often used to kill any animal deemed a nuisance.  Nuisance animals include lions, hyenas, eagles, crocodiles, dogs, and even squirrels.  The illegal poisoning of wildlife is certainly not endemic to Africa- it happens almost everywhere.  But it’s the scale of the poisoning, which as one of my colleagues recently noted is ‘a holocaust on the entire animal Kingdom’.

The poisoning is not limited to killing nuisance animals and poaching elephants for ivory.  It is used to procure food such as fish and birds.  It is believed if these are properly roasted there are no ill effects on human health.

Poisoned Open-billed storks being collected for sale. Photo by M. Odino
Poisoned Open-billed storks being collected for sale. Photo by M. Odino

The reality in Africa is that there are many people who have far greater concerns than for wildlife and for conservation to succeed we must understand the needs of people.  But wildlife poisoning cannot be one of the solutions.

Let the actions of the Namibian government speak loudly and be heard.  We need other African governments to urgently address the serious issue of wildlife poisoning as it is not only affects wildlife, but people, and the environments we all share.

NEXTElephant Poachers Poison Hundreds of Vultures to Evade Authorities

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
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.