Learn to Love Vultures or Lose Them

BirdLife Partners in Africa and elsewhere have joined with raptor conservation and research organisations around the world to call for an “image makeover” for Vultures.

International Vulture Awareness was celebrated on 5 September 2009. This comes against a backdrop of recent reports of problems facing Vultures in Africa and the ongoing ones in Asia. Across the Indian subcontinent, populations of three formerly very common species of Vulture have declined by more than 97% as a result of consuming cattle carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug diclofenac.

There have been mass Vulture deaths in East Africa associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of Vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of Vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery. Other threats include power line collisions and electrocutions, disturbance at breeding sites, drowning in farm reservoirs, direct persecution and declining food availability.

Vultures fulfill an extremely important ecological role. They keep the environment free of carcasses and waste, restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism, and help control numbers of pests such as rats and feral dogs by reducing the food available to them. They are of cultural value to communities in Africa and Asia, and have important eco-tourism value."Indeed Vultures provide a perfect example of the link between birds and people. Loss of Vultures would mean loss of important natural services to people, for example the cleaning of the environment of animal carcasses and waste at no charge", said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife's Regional Director for Africa."One major challenge to detecting and countering these threats is that there are very few people out there watching Vultures, let alone counting them. Thus it is difficult to determine population trends and to detect declining populations", said Paul Kariuki Ndang'ang'a, BirdLife's Species Programme Manager for Africa."The Asian Vulture Crisis has shown that without proper monitoring, a population crash can take place virtually undetected."The BirdLife Africa Partnership is therefore urging people to notice the important roles that Vultures play, and the crisis they are currently facing. Organisations and individuals that have the capacity are encouraged to take action for Vultures where feasible.Some of the main conservation actions that have been identified for Vultures in Africa include: establishing a monitoring network for African Vultures, establishing legal protection for the species in range states, eliminating the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa, and carrying out education and awareness programmes, particularly targeted at farmers, to reduce persecution, unintentional poisoning and hunting for cultural reasons.Elsewhere in the world, Birdlife Partner Bird Conservation Nepal had a full programme of events including art and photo competitions, the launch of a Vulture action plan, a half day workshop for conservation groups, a campaign to collect signatures for a petition calling for a 'diclofenac-free zone', school talks, and the publication of pamphlets to raise awareness of Vultures and their plight. Israeli Partner the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will be offering public lectures in all its birding centres across the country.

Manufacture of the veterinary form of Diclofenac, was outlawed in India in 2006 after a successful advocacy campaign by BNHS (BirdLife in India) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), and although these veterinary formulations are disappearing, equally dangerous human formulations are instead being used to treat livestock.

The Asian Vulture programme recently had success after Critically Endangered Slender-billed Vultures Gyps tenuirostris were bred in captivity for the first time, raising hopes that captive breeding has the potential to save this and other Critically Endangered Asian Vultures. To find out more about International Vulture Awareness go to www.ivad09.org

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