Changing Planet

1,500 Poisoned Vultures Since May, Vultures Now Targeted for Their Heads

This year has seen a dramatic increase in vulture poisonings particularly in southern Africa. At current levels many species of African vulture will become extinct within our lifetimes.

Poisoned White-backed vultures in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa. Photo courtesy of A. Botha

Since May at least 1,500 White-backed, Cape, Lappet-faced, and Hooded Vultures have perished at carcasses laced with cyanide, and carbofuran (Furadan) and carbosulfan pesticides.  Poisoning of carcasses has occurred in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.  In the past vultures were mainly unintentional victims of baited carcasses targeting predators, now vultures are usually the intended targets. (Read more: Mass Poisonings Devastate African Wildlife, Incite “Urgent Measures”)

Vultures are targeted because they give away the location of poacher’s illicit activities and increasingly they are targeted for their heads, which are widely used in traditional medicine, particularly in South Africa and throughout West Africa.  The increasingly common sight of headless vulture carcasses indicates the demand for vulture heads is increasing.

Headless vulture carcass. Photo courtest of A. Botha
Headless vulture carcass. Photo courtesy of A. Botha

Vulture heads are believed to have clairvoyant powers.  Because vultures have excellent eyesight, it is believed their heads allow one to see into the future and thus predict the outcomes of presidential elections, gambling competitions, and even the lottery.  Surely if vultures could see into the future they would opt to fly elsewhere because for vultures in Africa, the future is grim.

NEXTElephant Poachers Poison Hundreds of Vultures to Evade Authorities

Read Darcy’s entire blog series

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.
  • Paula Williams

    OMG, this world just isn’t gonna be happy until all animals are killed? Praying for all our wildlife!!!!!!!

  • Claudia

    Human greed and avarice is killing the planet and its creatures. Is there any government agency or private company that can actually put a stop to poachers? If there is, tell me where to send a check…

  • martin heys

    When will human beings ever learn to stop interfering with mother nature? My fear is we will never learn until its all to late. My plea is that as human beings we have a massive responsibility to nurture and protect all living creatures that live on this planet. They have as much right to be here as we do.

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