Among members of the public, I describe myself as a conservationist, or more typically my response is, “I study birds.”
Among my conservation colleagues, I have to go a step further—”I study vultures”—to which the near-unanimous reply is “I just don’t see vultures anymore.” Sigh …Lappet-faced, white-backed, and Cape vultures squabble over a carcass at Sable Dam, Kruger National Park, South Africa. Our study suggests that these three species are declining at a rate of 80–92 percent over three generations (about 45–55 years). (Photo by Andre Botha)
Sadly, that statement reflects the reality on the ground these days across Africa. In particular, the past five years have been brutal for what are arguably nature’s most important scavengers.
Poisoning, poisoning, and more poisoning. Whether you’re a fan of vultures’ unique lifestyle or not, you can’t begrudge an animal a safe meal when that animal does such ubiquitous good for mankind. Yet for a vulture, to eat and be poisoned or not to eat: that is the question.
Majestic to those who know them, yet unloved by many, vultures bear the brunt of retaliatory poisonings targeting predators that have killed livestock.
The poaching crisis facing elephants has also quietly resulted in the carnage of thousands of vultures. Over the last three years poachers have relentlessly laced elephant carcasses to eliminate vultures and prevent their overhead circling from giving away the scene of the crime.
Then there is the unsustainable harvesting of vultures for traditional medicine. How “traditional” (or medicinal?) is your vulture-based medicine when 40 percent of parts on sale come from birds that have been killed by pesticides?
That Africa’s vultures are in crisis is no longer in doubt. Our most recent study confirms that eight species of African vulture have declined an average of 62 percent over the past three decades. Given annual decline rates, they are projected to decline from 70-97 percent over three generations, or approximately 50 years. Without conservation intervention, extinction is certain. And because vultures don’t breed like rabbits, their declines will be felt for many decades to come.
For those of us working to conserve Africa’s vultures, we are a beleaguered bunch. Vultures in the wild desperately need our help to raise awareness about the need for better regulation of pesticides and other poisons, particularly in Africa. This is how you can help us to make an impact:
1) Share this blog post and the full study as widely as possible: “Another continental vulture crisis: Africa’s vultures collapsing toward extinction.”
2) Support our work by donating to The Peregrine Fund’s Africa Program
3) Get in touch if you have any ideas on how to help: firstname.lastname@example.org