A total of 65 vultures and a single adult tawny eagle were found dead on a farm near the confluence of the Blyde and Olifants rivers in Limpopo.
Among the 66 dead birds were 50 globally endangered African white-backed vultures, 14 hooded vultures, also globally endangered, as well as a Cape vulture that is globally endangered, regionally endangered and near-endemic.
The first person on the scene was Birds of Prey manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Andre Botha. He said the scene of this mass killing was deeply upsetting, and the loss was much greater than just the 66 birds. “Many of the birds were adults of breeding age, which will have severe consequences and caused the loss or break-up of several breeding pairs at the very early stages of the breeding season, which has recently commenced. If even one member of a breeding pair dies a whole generation is killed.”
Botha added every vulture species was categorised as endangered in the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s red list. During the assessment of the scene it became obvious they had been poisoned.
It also became clear that the poisoning was associated with poaching activities, as many wire snares had been found. They also found what looked like a camp where the poachers spent time to slaughter animals. “Parts of the carcasses were found scattered on the scene. It seems that a zebra carcass was first laced with poison, and a few days later the remains of a kudu cow was also poisoned.” I
It is likely that a carbamate-based chemical, such as Aldicarb, was used to kill the birds. These type of chemicals are widely used in agricultural practices.
The Limpopo department of environment and tourism allegedly did not know about the incident. The EWT team tried to obtain cooperation from various parties, and Botha said it irked him. “Can you imagine the incredible reaction from all over if it was 60 dead rhino lying here? While the global population of white rhino is estimated to be more than 20 000 individuals, Cape griffon vultures number far less than 10 000 individuals. It makes me sick,” he said.
EWT statistics show more than 2 000 vultures have been killed in the past two years. Research suggests that the heads of vultures are used in traditional medicine for a range of purposes, from providing clairvoyant powers and foresight when gambling. It is reportedly also used to increase one’s intelligence.