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

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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.