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Database to track vulture poisoning

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The launch of the database this weekend is aimed at reducing poisonous threats to vultures

File image. Picture: REUTERS/Enrique Calvo/Files

A new online database aimed at reducing poisonous threats to vultures, will be launched this weekend.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust has been collecting data on wildlife poisoning since 1995 and has now joined forces with The Peregrine Fund to assess the scope and impact of this critical threat to vultures and other wildlife species across Africa, South Africa and also the Northern Cape.

In partnership with the Vulture Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission they have collated all historical and current incidents of wildlife poisoning into the African Wildlife Poisoning Database (AWPD) which will be launched tomorrow (September 2), to mark International Vulture Awareness Day.

So far, the database contains records of 272 poisoning incidents that have killed over 8,000 animals of 40 different species, from 15 countries. Although records of poisoning date back to 1961, in the past decade there has been a sharp escalation in poisoning incidents, with most of the deaths occurring during this time. Aside from vultures, species affected range from large carnivores, such as lions, leopards, and hyaenas, to elephants, impalas, cranes, and storks. However, by far the most deaths are of vultures, comprising ten different species, including two species that migrate to Africa from Europe.

The use of poisons to kill wildlife in Africa has rapidly accelerated over the past decade, and is having a devastating effect on the populations of many species. EWT has been working on wildlife poisoning issues for more than 20 years and has noted a rapid escalation in the use of poisons on recent years for various reasons. These include the use of poisons to target specific species with such as elephants that provide high-value by-products for trade, or leopards or monkeys that cause damage to domestic livestock or crops.

Due to the indiscriminate nature of poisons, most of which are highly toxic pesticides, there are almost always unintentional consequences that affect a broad range of terrestrial and aquatic species and often this includes human beings. Vultures are being the most severely afflicted, as they are typically the first to arrive at a poisoned carcass, and they feed in large numbers.

“Wildlife poisoning in Africa has reached epic proportions and one would be hard pressed to find a group of species that is not affected. The AWPD is an essential tool for documenting this silent crime that kills not only wildlife, but domestic animals including cows, sheep, goats and dogs, as well as contaminating the environment, particularly water sources,” Darcy Ogada, Assistant Director of Africa Programmes for The Peregrine Fund, said

To allow greater access to this information and increased publicity for this threat facing Africa’s wildlife, as well as its people and livestock, the EWT and The Peregrine Fund have collaborated with the Gadfly Project, to develop an online version of the AWPD. This database allows registered members of the public, conservationists, and wildlife veterinarians, across Africa, to input information into the database through a mobile app.

“Conservation starts and ends with data. Effective action can only be taken if we understand where poisoning incidents occur, what species are affected and what the reasons are for the poisoning. The AWPD already contributes significantly to our understanding of the situation in southern and east Africa and, as it grows, we will better understand the situation in other parts of Africa, and be able to take action on the ground to prevent future wildlife deaths,” Dr Lizanne Roxburgh, EWT Senior Scientist, said.

The AWPD is designed to facilitate simple, effective capture of relevant data, either by using a mobile device at a wildlife poisoning incident, or by inputting data via the website. Users can access basic information on poisoning incidents and mortalities, and view these on a map of Africa. In some cases, data about a poisoning incident may be considered sensitive and will not be shared without the consent of the submitting person or organisation.

Three vulture species, White-backed, Lappet-faced and Cape Vulture occur in the Northern Cape and Kimberley is one of few African cities with a large vulture population virtually on its doorstep.