Huge Vulture Deaths in Wildlife Poisoning Event

At least 45 vultures have been poisoned, 27 of them fatally, after feeding on a kudu carcass on the farm Antioch, 20km outside of Hoedspruit. The kudu and the vultures appear to have fallen prey to the poison Curaters in what is suspected to be an attempt to secure bush meat.

Green peppers laced with the characteristic blue granular poison were found in the vicinity, along with a number of snares. The affected birds were mostly white-backed vultures, along with a hooded vulture, much rarer in South Africa.

Both bird species are listed as vulnerable to extinction. Farmer Frans Louw says he discovered the kudu carcass on Saturday October 8, 2005, but suspected the animal had died of a snake bite.

When his wife saw the dying vultures the following Tuesday, Brian Jones of Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre was called in. He was appalled to find scores of vultures lying dead on the ground, crawling around and vomiting near the carcass. He is now looking after the 18 birds that were not immediately killed. Thebirds are now recovering well.

According to Tim Snow of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Poison Working Group, This is the worst vulture poisoning he is aware of in the last four years at least. He says that Curater or carbofuran is a fairly commonly used wildlife poison. "It is one of the top ten wildlife toxins."

The poison is a slightly less deadly relative of to the notorious 'two step' Temik, which was used to kill 5 white rhino and 25 other antelope in the far north of the Limpopo earlier in the year.

Both poisons are intended to kill worms in the soil in agricultural lands. Louw says that he had the poison on his property, but it is kept in a locked cupboard and was last used a few months ago.

Both Curaters and green peppers can be found on several farms nearby. Nature conservation officials from the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism were called in along with the police, but say that it will be hard to find "solid proof " of who carried out the poisoning.

Jones has appealed to farmers to burn or report any animals that have died a suspicious death. "Farmers are the most important conservationists. They need to realise that they are in a sensitive system and be more conscientious." He has said that when the vultures are completely recovered they will be released at the vulture restaurant at Moholoholo. 

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