Poisoning of wild animals in South Africa happens for a variety of reasons – people looking for protein, farmers trying to deal with ‘problem' animals or birds, unscrupulous individuals trying to obtain bird or animal parts for the muti trade, misuse of chemicals by inexperienced workers – all of these and more spell death for a variety of birds and animals. Tim Snow, from the Endangered Wildlife Trust - Poison Working Group (EWT-PWG), spends his life trying to deal with this issue.
From his base near Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal, he has travelled as far afield as Etosha, Namibia to deal with wildlife poisonings. Specially trained, he carries equipment to deal with the toxic remains of poison victims. He collects evidence and information from poisonings and together with the rest of the working group compiles information on South Africa's deadliest chemicals. Armed with this information, the PWG interacts with government and policy makers to ensure that only the safest chemicals are used.
Snow says that dealing with wildlife poisonings requires a high degree of expertise to ensure that the poison does not also harm those on the scene. Partly for this reason, the PWG has always been very small. However, this year he is hoping to train a select group of volunteers to broaden the network of people who can respond to incidents. Snow says that the recovery of poisoned animals is important for several reasons. From toxicology reports, the most common poisons used can be identified and steps taken to regulate their use.
The removal of carcasses takes the poison out of the ecosystem, and also makes parts unavailable for the muti trade or for human consumption. Where possible, legal action will be taken against those responsible for the poisoning. The PWG largely relies on members of the public to call in poisoning incidents. Snow encourages people to report any suspicious dead animals to the group. The more information available on what types of poisonings occur, the easier it is for the group to present a case for the withdrawal of a toxin.
Last year, based on the PWG's database, the poison monocrotophos was withdrawn from sales in South Africa due to its deadly effect on wildlife even when correctly applied. As well as dealing with poisoning incidents, the PWG is very proactive in training people, especially farmers and their workers, about the responsible use of pesticides. They also educate farmers that have ‘problem animals' on other methods of resolving conflicts between man and nature that do not rely on poisons.
For more information, or to report wildlife poisonings, call the EWT on 011 486 1102 or Tim Snow on 082 463 4104. The group can arrange presentations on the responsible use of chemicals and the impact of poisons on the environment for wildlife clubs and garden clubs.