Although vultures traditionally instill fear, nausea and annoyance in people — hello, one Virginia town seriously wanted to kill and hang a vulture’s corpse — these creatures can be pretty awesome. Being able to live with stomach acid from hell is hard to beat.
Yet, not even a vulture’s stomach acid can break down the problem facing African vultures today: they’re being poisoned.
While some of the poisoning is accidental, most of it is done on purpose by poachers. If this continues, there might not be any vultures left on the continent.
Without vultures, humans and the environment would also lose. A reported in Independent Online, the Endangered Wildlife Trust explained, “Without scavengers, carcasses are left to rot, disease spreads among other animals, sanitation decreases in and around villages and stray dog populations rise in tandem with associated cases of human injuries and fatal rabies incidences.”
Even though vultures do a lot for us and the planet by cleaning up carcasses and preventing the spread of diseases, the world, and Africa in particular, is losing them at an alarming rate. As Independent Online notes, Africa is where 11 of the total 23 vulture species can be found. Obviously labeling four of those species as endangered and another three as vulnerable isn’t enough. Vultures in West Africa have been particularly hurt since 97 percent of their population has been destroyed.
Why Are the Vultures Being Poisoned?
There’s no umbrella answer. Many vultures were initially poisoned as a type of collateral damage. As reported in National Geographic, poachers engaging in illegal wildlife trafficking didn’t want the vultures to tip off the local authorities of their whereabouts and illegal activities, so it was easier to cover the carcass in poison — usually cyanide, carbofuran and carbosulfan pesticides — and silence the birds.
Adding insult to injury, now some are intentionally poisoning the birds to further exploit them. What are the poachers after? The vultures’ heads. In some parts of Africa, including West Africa, hundreds of dead vultures are popping up without their heads. Vulture heads are in demand because they are a common ingredient in traditional medicine and they are believed to possess magical properties, like clairvoyance.
Poisoning is the main driving force behind the vulture population decline. According to Independent Online, saving vultures is a group effort. Scientists can research and track the poisoning, but that can only go so far. Saving Africa’s vultures is a responsibility that falls on the people of Africa and the African governments.
India‘s Vulture Crisis
India is a prime example of what can happen without vultures. Although the vultures weren’t intentionally poisoned per se, India lost so much of its vulture population that “not one pair of vultures could be seen together.” The pain killer diclofenac in cows caused vulture kidney failure and vulture deaths. Without vultures, there was a carcass crisis in the country. Ancient traditions were also almost lost, usually related to burial traditions.
Yet, stray and feral dogs did gain something from the vulture crisis: lots and lots of food. According to Antranik, the scavenger dogs are very healthy because of their abundant food supply, yet the dogs’ anatomy isn’t the best equipped for scavenging. Unlike vultures, the dogs lack the ability to destroy diseases like rabies, and they can only transmit them. Maybe this is the case of the spread of canine distemper virus affecting India’s tiger population (even though the tigers are also being purposefully poisoned).
While Africa can learn a lot the consequences of India’s significant vulture loss, India’s vultures haven’t quite made a comeback. Vultures’ natural mating patterns and the government’s prolonged inaction — the Indian government didn’t ban diclofenac until 2006 — mean that there’s an ongoing vulture crisis. Send a message to India and the world that vultures are worth saving by signing and sharing this petition.
Photo Credit: Stefan van Bremen