Vultures deserve our hugs too


From National Geographic, about the important role vultures play in the ecosystem and their declining numbers which are often ignored:

In July 2012, 191 vultures died after feasting on an elephant that had been poached and then sprinkled with poison in a Zimbabwean national park. A year later roughly 500 vultures were killed after feeding on a poison-laced elephant in Namibia. Why do poachers, intent on ivory, target vultures in this way? “Because their kettling in the sky over dead elephants and rhinoceroses alerts game wardens to their activities,” Ogada says. Ivory poachers now account for one-third of all East African vulture poisonings.

Cultural practices have also taken a toll on vultures. According to André Botha, co-chair of the vulture specialist group at the Inter­national Union for Conservation of Nature, many of the birds found at poached carcasses are missing their heads and feet—a sure sign they’ve been sold for muti, or traditional healing. Shoppers at southern African markets have little trouble buying body parts believed to cure a range of ailments or impart strength, speed, and endurance. Dried vul­ture brain is also popular: Mixed with mud and smoked, it’s said to conjure guidance from beyond.

Still, the biggest existential threat to African vultures remains the ubiquitous availability and use of poisons. FMC, the Philadelphia-based maker of Furadan, began buying back the compound from distribution channels in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania—and suspended sales in South Africa—following a 60 Minutes segment on lion poisonings in 2009. But the compound, in generic form, persists. Agriculture is the second largest industry in Kenya, and the nation has a long history of using toxins to combat outbreaks of disease and pests. Anyone can walk into a Kenyan agro-veterinary shop and, for less than two dollars, buy highly toxic pesticides off the shelf—to kill insects, mice, feral dogs, hyenas, leopards, jackals, and even fish and ducks meant for human consumption. (Poachers claim, erroneously, that removing the animal’s entrails, then slowly roasting the carcass, detoxifies the flesh.)

Had no idea that vulture parts were sold for misguided medicinal and spiritual purposes. I hope this brings more attention to saving these magnificent birds, on the same level as elephants, dolphins, and whales.

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