Police investigates vulture poisonings in the Kalahari

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The police is investigating the death of 25 white-backed vultures that were allegedly poisoned on a Kalahari farm during the first weekend of this year. This is according to Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, a toxicologist and director of the Griffon Poison Information Centre.  

“On Monday I was informed of the poisonings by a colleague of mine who works in the conservationist environment and his story was confirmed by police as they were driving to the scene. However, details of the location and which type of poison was used cannot be revealed at this time as it is an active police investigation,” Dr Verdoorn told AgriOrbit. “This has devastated the farming community because they are passionate about establishing a large vulture population in the area and have been working together to address issues such as feeding.”

Dr Verdoorn said if found guilty, the perpetrators could face serious jail time as well as large fines because all vultures are highly endangered animals. “South Africa does still have skilled, hardworking police officers that are diligent when it comes to investigating cases like these and they have the necessary forensic laboratory assistance to back up their investigations.”

Vultures are usually poisoned due to unenlightened individuals who do not know that it is illegal to poison animals, Dr Verdoorn said. “It is usually done by people who place agrochemicals in a kudu or oryx or another carcass to kill a jackal, caracal, leopard or lion or something similar. I cannot believe that such ignorance still exists in 2024.”

Learn more about lead poisoning in vultures.

A devastating loss

He added that poisoning will always have a devastating impact on vultures, who usually spot a carcass first. “Poison is like a blind dog. He will bite anywhere and when he bites, he kills.”

From an ecological perspective this loss will have a devastating impact on the environment, as an apex species has been taken out of the food chain, Dr Verdoorn added. “Carcasses, that were previously eaten by vultures, will now remain rotting in the veld and this could have severe implications. Especially if the carcass is diseased.”

Dr Verdoorn said this could lead to the spread of diseases such as anthrax. “Without vultures, anthrax spores can now easily spread from infected carcasses to healthy animals.”

Apart from the ecological impact, he said these deaths have an emotional impact on the producers, hunters, and landowners of the district because vultures are close to the hearts of many South Africans. “I picked up that people feel robbed after the deaths of these vultures. The birds were considered a wonderful natural asset to have in their region.”

Dr Verdoorn said he sympathised with producers when it came to predation, but encouraged them to find alternative, legal ways to deal with the issue. He recommended Predation Management South Africa’s website (www.pmfsa.co.za) for more information. – Susan Marais, AgriOrbit

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