“Elephant poaching in the Caprivi is rife. Once an elephant is killed, the vultures congregate in the skies and act as an indicator to game rangers. Poachers try to eliminate the vultures with poison to create a security bubble for themselves. Two other incidents affecting a lesser number of birds have also taken place in the region recently,” said André Botha, manager of Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme.
The Caprivi is a narrow strip of land bordered by Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the poisoning will affect vulture populations in all these countries. “The death toll is estimated at 400 to 600 birds, but we could be looking at 1 000 birds lost. The guys managing the incident tried to limit the damage and incinerated the carcases without checking the number of birds or the species. Many other birds would also have fed and died elsewhere,” said Botha.
Many adult birds died and the poisoning will affect the species’ ability to recover. “Vultures breed once a year and raise only one chick. From a population of birds that breed fairly slowly, a loss of such magnitude is immense.” Botha said the trend of poisoning in the Caprivi had escalated over the past three years. “This is extremely worrying,” he said.
Younger birds would move into the territory of the poisoned adults but Botha said they would likely also be poisoned. In South Africa, authorities were still investigating a case where at least 57 vultures were poisoned in the Eastern Cape after eating poisoned carcasses. No charges have been laid as yet.