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Unnatural Vulture Deaths in Africa Rise at Alarming Rate

The continent is home to 11 of the world’s 16 old world vulture species. They are found in towns and cities as well as in the savannah, where again they perform the vital role of the clean-up squad. From Kenya to Ethiopia, Botswana and South Africa, these birds have been a reassuring and seemingly permanent presence wherever big game animals roam. But now there are signs that Africa’s vulture populations are also plummeting at an alarming rate. More than 2,000 hooded vultures – a significant proportion of the entire world population – died in Guinea-Bissau in March. The deaths were due to poisoning, and reports suggest they may be linked to the trade in vulture parts amid a widespread belief that possessing the head of a vulture guards against harm and acts as a good luck charm. Because vultures feed communally at a carcass, they are a sitting target for poachers, who can wipe out hundreds of birds at a time. Elephant poachers often target the birds, which otherwise might alert rangers to an illegal kill. Andre Botha, from South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust, recalls that in June 2013 several hundred vultures were poisoned at an elephant carcass in the Zambezi region of Namibia. More recently, in June last year, 537 vultures of five different species were poisoned at elephant carcasses near Chobe national park in Botswana.