The shocking news about the intentional and targeted poisoning of an elephant carcass that affected 121 Critically Endangered vultures on 25 February 2018 in southern Mozambique is distressing but not surprising. These incidents are becoming more frequent. The impact of this event is devastating, however it is important to realise that without a quick response the mortalities would have been much greater.
Of the 121 affected vultures, 18 were recovered poisoned but still alive and these are all undergoing treatment. The rapid action taken by the poison response team neutralised the poisoned carcass and prevented many of the hundreds of vultures seen in the area plus other scavenging animals from a death via poisoning. Research by the Hawk Conservancy Trust’s Head of Conservation and Research, Dr Campbell Murn, has demonstrated that a quick response by poison response teams will significantly reduce deaths and minimise the loss of wildlife and contamination of the environment.
The killing of wildlife by poisoning is very difficult to prevent, but a fast response to poisoning events limits their impact. Working in partnership, the Hawk Conservancy Trust, the University of Reading and the Endangered Wildlife Trust deliver a training programme on the effective neutralisation of poisoning events and also provide poison response kits to field personnel in southern Africa.
A lot more poison response training is required, and we have identified key areas and poisoning hotspots where urgent work is needed to enable stakeholders in these areas to adequately plan for and manage incidents when they occur.
Vultures are in severe decline and the situation is now critical. Africa is fast losing its vultures, and with them the important and highly efficient ecosystem services they provide. Without scavengers, carcasses are left to rot and potential for disease increases for both humans and wildlife.
It cannot be overlooked that the most significant underlying issue is illegal elephant poaching, and as long as there is elephant poaching, vultures are at risk. However, elephants already have a huge support network, which is having a positive impact on elephant conservation.
Vultures cannot wait for the underlying issue to be resolved. Immediate action is needed and we are here to help vultures because without effective intervention when poisoning occurs, they will become extinct. Our ability to supply the training and kits needed across this region is limited by our resources and so we are asking for your support to expand these vital skills and equipment into the key areas where we can play our part together in preventing the extinction of these vital birds.