Vultures, Too, Are Dying From Masai Mara Poison Attack

Two days ago eight members of the Marsh Pride, made internationally famous on the long-running television series Big Cat Diary, were poisoned inside the Masai Mara National Reserve. The lions fed on a cow carcass baited with a highly toxic carbamate pesticide; the exact identity of the poison will be revealed after laboratory testing. Two of the lions have succumbed to poisoning, the others are said to be recovering. Also poisoned were at least six White-backed and Rüppell’s vultures, though this will never make the headlines.

Poisoned Marsh Pride lion and a Critically endangered White-backed Vulture. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. (Photo by L. Sankai)

That there has been immediate international condemnation of this atrocious act should not surprise anyone compassionate about wildlife conservation. There are of course many more facets to this story and anyone who is aware of the management issues in and around the Mara reserve over many decades will not be shocked that it has come to this. While vastly improving the management of this particular reserve should be one outcome, the larger issue of wildlife poisoning needs to be urgently addressed, and not just in Kenya, but across Africa.

The unrestricted access to pesticides and other poisons such as strychnine and cyanide must be curtailed immediately through tighter controls on the distribution of these highly toxic poisons that are widely used to kill wildlife.

This is not just an issue of a bunch of “tree-hugging environmentalists” (as we’ve been called) trying to save wildlife. Poisons are widely used to harvest fish and bushmeat, which are then consumed by unsuspecting customers. Poisons are being used for poaching elephants and rhinos. The use of poisons is so reckless that sometimes entire waterholes are poisoned to kill elephants, or to harvest birds and antelopes for bushmeat. The numbers of non-target species killed by tainting waterholes is staggering, while the effects on humans and their livestock that also rely on these water sources is unknown.

Critically endangered White-headed Vulture that was one of 476 vultures poisoned at an elephant carcass that was killed by the pesticide carbofuran in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia in October 2013. Photo by E. Sayer.
Critically endangered White-headed vulture that was one of 476 vultures poisoned at an elephant carcass that was killed by the pesticide carbofuran in North Luangwa National Park, Zambia in October 2013. (Photo by E. Sayer)

The poisoning of the famous Marsh Pride should be a catalyst for African governments and those involved in wildlife and environmental issues in Africa to have a serious discussion about curtailing the easy access to highly toxic pesticides and other poisons. The abuse of pesticides goes far beyond poisoning wildlife.

NEXT: Elephant Poachers Poison Hundreds of Vultures to Evade Authorities

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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.