The omens of death are becoming victims themselves.
To keep from getting caught, poachers in Africa are poisoning the carcasses of elephants, rhinos and other species left behind in the search for ivory and other wildlife products. That's because those carcasses attract vultures, which in turn attract game rangers.
Conservationists estimate nearly 1,500 vultures have been killed in the past two years in southern Africa. Last year in Namibia, a single carcass poisoned 400 to 600 vultures.
A coalition of environmental and nonprofit organizations said some vulture species in West Africa have been cut by up to 97 percent in just over three decades. Populations in east and southern Africa have declined 50 to 60 percent.
The coalition said poisoning is "decimating African vulture populations, precipitating a biodiversity crisis with as-yet-uncharted human health consequences." The scavengers play a vital role in preventing diseases that occur if carcasses are left to rot.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, four of the world's vulture species are at risk of extinction and three others are vulnerable. Eleven of the world's 23 vulture species live in Africa.
"Governments are slowly becoming aware of the problem, but a lot more needs to be done," Andre Botha, manager of the birds of prey program at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said yesterday. "I don't think it's realistic to stop poisoning altogether, given the current context of poaching, but if it's not managed properly, you could have massive losses" (David Smith, London Guardian, June 26).
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