The Mmegi, Botswana’s daily news, reported last week at least 119 vultures were killed in a poisoning incident recently in Maun, after farmers laced cattle carcasses with a chemical in order to eliminate troublesome lions attacking their livestock.
Birdlife Botswana director, Kabelo Senyatso told Mmegi the incident was the latest in a string of poisonings involving the endangered birds. Numbers of the ecologically important birds have been on the decline for years in Botswana, with hundreds dying due to poisonings committed by farmers and poachers.
“We were made aware of the incident in Maun on Sunday but it happened, most likely, 10 days before that and we were handling that over the weekend,” Senyatso said.
“We suspect farmers were attempting to poison lions and they laced two cattle carcasses. No lions were found dead in the area and the only victims were the vultures that came to feed on the carcasses. “Usually, these poisons are so strong that if a lion had eaten the carcass, it would have died within the vicinity,” he said.
The director said it was further suspected that the two cattle used for the trap had not died of natural causes.
“There have been cases before where such animals are found with bullet wounds or where people use matimela (stray livestock). It is possible that the cattle were already dead from natural causes before being laced, but it is unlikely that they would have died next to each other,” he said.
Senyatso said Birdlife Botswana was receiving reports of vulture poisoning every two to three weeks, with the worst thus far this year being two events near Palapye where between 150 and 160 birds were found dead.
The country’s worst vulture poisoning event took place some years ago outside Chobe Game Reserve where between 400 and 500 birds were found dead. “We do appreciate that with most farmers, when we educate them about this matter, they do change their ways because they are not targeting the vultures specifically,” he said.
“We appreciate the frustrations of farmers because the response of wildlife officers to troublesome predators is not always what it should be. However, they must know that when you try to kill that animal with poison, you are also endangering many other animals. We have even had instances where people have been poisoned, in these attempts to target predators.”
Senyatso said last December, two children died after eating tainted ducks that had picked up poison from a trap set for lions.
“Every time you poison something, you are also putting a drop for yourself. It can come full circle,” he said. In recent years, Birdlife Botswana, in partnership with regional organizations, has stepped up its campaign to save the country’s last vultures from extinction.
Besides farmers, poachers also lace their quarry with poison to prevent vultures from circling overhead and thus alerting authorities about the presence of a dead animal.