At least 150 critically-endangered vultures were poisoned to death in separate incidents in Botswana and South Africa, conservationists said, warning that the mass killings pushed the birds closer to extinction.
In the latest incidents, more than 50 white-backed vultures were found dead in Botswana’s northern Chobe district on Friday, while about 100 others were discovered in South Africa’s Kruger National Park on Thursday, according to vulture conservation group Vulpro.
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“The repercussions of these poisonings are huge. It’s breeding season so their chicks will not survive and breeding pairs have been lost for good,” the organisation tweeted.
“Vulture populations cannot withstand these losses and the threat of extinction creeps ever closer.”
In both poisoning cases, the birds died after feeding from the carcass of a buffalo, which appeared to have been laced with poison, Vulpro’s founder Kerri Wolter said.
“What makes this even more catastrophic is that it’s breeding season now” and chicks will not survive without their parents, Wolter said.
Park officials in South Africa said they were investigating the incident, adding some of the carcasses appeared to have been harvested for their body parts.
“Given the critical status of vultures globally, poisonings at this scale place the species at increasing risk of extinction,” Yolan Friedmann, the head of the Endangered Wildlife Trust conservation group, said in a statement on the Kruger incident.
We unfortunately end this week with some exceptionally sad news. Over the last 2 days, 150 vultures have been poisoned in two separate incidents (1 in Kruger National Park and the other Chobe Botswana). These killings were aimed at targeting vultures for muti. pic.twitter.com/4YIYOKqZQh
— VulPro (@WeLoveVultures) August 12, 2022
Vulture poisoning is not uncommon in wildlife-rich southern Africa, where they are preyed on by poachers because they draw unwanted attention to their illegal activities.
Their heads are also used in traditional medicine, according to wildlife groups.
The white-backed vulture is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) “red list” of critically-endangered bird species.
One of the largest vulture deaths recorded in recent years in Botswana was in 2019, when 537 carcasses were discovered in the Chobe game reserve after they ate carcasses of three elephants killed by poachers.