Wildlife

Africa’s Silent Spring Is Upon Us

In 1962, Rachel Carson penned the environmental movement’s cornerstone manuscript Silent Spring. The highly controversial book awoke America’s consciousness to the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly on birds. Over 50 years later, the book has left an important legacy, but one that, sadly, has yet to make its full impact in Africa, where wildlife poisoning is a serious issue.

The use of highly toxic pesticides to poison wildlife can be best described as silent, cheap, easy, and effective. It is so effective that a number of species of African wildlife are in decline due to poisoning. These include lions, hyenas, eagles, and especially vultures.

Poisoning is one of the biggest threats to lions, like this one in Zimbabwe. Many are killed in retaliation for attacks on livestock. (Photo by H. van der Westhuizen)
Poisoning is one of the biggest threats to lions, like this one in Zimbabwe. Many are killed in retaliation for attacks on livestock. (Photo by H. van der Westhuizen)

Pesticides are also used to kill many other species including elephants, hippos, leopards, wild dogs, chimpanzees, crowned cranes, game birds, and fish. The list is endless. Poaching of elephants and rhinos is now done using pesticides.  Poachers use pesticides that are very easy to obtain, the most potent of which can fell a large tusker within 30 minutes. Pesticides are also used to harvest fish and birds for food, to obtain animals for traditional medicine and witchcraft, and to kill predators that attack livestock.

These poisoned African open-billed storks will be taken to the market to be sold in western Kenya. (Photo by M. Odino)
These poisoned African open-billed storks will be taken to the market to be sold in western Kenya. (Photo by M. Odino)

Even though the use of pesticides to poison wildlife is illegal in most African countries, lax regulation, corrupt officials, and poor enforcement have resulted in widespread abuse. Carbofuran is the pesticide most widely abused in Africa. It is banned—or its use is severely restricted—in the United States, Canada, and in EU countries. Why not in African countries?

A pile of 184 poisoned white-backed and lappet-faced vultures in front of an elephant carcass that was poached for ivory in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo by R. Groom)
A pile of 184 poisoned white-backed and lappet-faced vultures in front of an elephant carcass that was poached for ivory in Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo by R. Groom)

The evidence on the ground is sickening. However, a recent case illustrates that the situation can be tackled by African governments. The Zambia Wildlife Authority successfully prosecuted a local farmer, who was sentenced to 6 years in jail after he poisoned 4 elephants, 476 vultures, and 2 bateleur eagles. We need to see more examples like this in Africa. After all, the health of Africa’s wildlife and, by extension, the health of its people is at stake.

For further reading, see “The power of poison: pesticide poisoning of Africa’s wildlife,” published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and available online at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nyas.12405/abstract

To help end this devastation visit http://stopwildlifepoisoning.wildlifedirect.org/

Read all posts by Darcy Ogada

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.
  • Denis

    How sad this is to treat our most treasured asset on this planet, with blatent disregard for there welfare. There should be a world wide movement to bring the parties in question & made accountable for this Haynes crime.

  • Rob

    When are us stupid apes going to wake up and realise that everything is part of the process? We need to drastically, voluntarily reduce our populations and greed! It sickens me that the ignorance and arrogance of man is still allowed to fester! Shame on you! Shame on me!

  • Lanfairya

    It’s interesting that this article references “A Silent Spring” which was originally written to highlight the dangers of DDT, yet this article completely ignores the widespread use of DDT in Africa. I understand it is used to combat malaria, but I have to question it’s use regardless. What is the point of saving people from malaria only to have decimated their homes through poisoning their food and water supply? What is your stance on this issue considering the concern that pesticides in farming causes?

  • Angad Achappa

    This is very alarming! I have an article along with supporting photographs(clicked by me) regarding Diclofenac poisoning of vultures and eagle in India. Anywhere I can submit?

  • Darcy Ogada

    In response to the comments by 1) Lanfairya and 2) Angad Achappa the author replies:
    1) Yes, I agree the Silent Spring was focused on DDT though the overall message was on the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, which would include the direct poisoning of wildlife that my blog (and associated paper) was trying to highlight. In researching the paper (that was linked at the bottom of the blog), I realized there had been quite a number of scientific studies on the levels of persistent pesticides, particularly some organochlorides, in water bodies in Africa. I do mention this briefly in the paper, however, it was beyond its scope to go into more detail about the potential for these pesticides to harm wildlife and people in particular. I do not support the use of DDT in the fight against malaria control in Africa and in other developing regions. I feel that we need to look beyond the immediate benefits, which do not outweigh the long-term costs as you rightly mention, and given the state of innovation across the globe we should prioritize looking for less harmful solutions in the fight against malaria. This point is illustrated in a recent scientific paper on the levels of pollutants (including DDT, chlordanes, PCBs, etc) in waterbird eggs in South Africa (where DDT is used to control malaria) that found some of the highest levels of DDT ever recorded:
    Bouwman, H.,et al.,Halogenated pollutants in terrestrial and aquatic bird eggs: Converging patterns of pollutant profiles, and impacts and risks from high levels. Environmental Research (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2013.06.003i

    Of course, climate change is only making finding alternative solutions more of a priority as I just heard a report from the highlands of Uganda where malaria was unknown until recently and its arrival has been associated with warming climatic conditions.
    2) Angad, I would need to know more details on your specific publication before I could recommend somewhere to submit it. Why don’t you contact me directly at darcyogadaATyahoo.com

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