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Twelve white-backed vultures have been found poisoned in Lionspruit Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga.

Poisoned vultures in Mpumulanga
Vultures found poisoned on Derby farm in Limpopo. © Andre Botha

André Botha, manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Birds of Prey Programme, managed to rescue two of the birds, which he then sent to the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre near Hoedspruit. The centre is a haven for many abandoned, injured and poisoned wildlife, and it is the only facility in South Africa that has successfully bred the endangered crown eagle.

Upon inquiry, it was established that the condition of these two vultures had improved considerably. Brian Jones, the manager at the centre, said: “All the birds were brought here, and we found two that were still alive. They have been treated for poisoning and they are already standing up. Good news indeed.”

However, the birds are still not out of danger, and they are carefully being monitored. “We have sent samples of the dead birds to the Onderstepoort Veterinary facility near Pretoria, but we can already confirm that the meat that the birds had consumed was poisoned. We will know shortly which type of poison was used.”

Carcasses of warthogs that had been shot in Marloth Park were discovered to have been dumped at a site called the “Vultures’ Restaurant”. Various restaurants in Marloth Park also discard their leftover food there. As soon as the kind of poison has been established, the whole area will have to be sterilised.

The white-backed vulture is closely related to the European griffon vulture, and it has been impacted by a number of threats, resulting in a decline in its numbers in recent years. Consequently, in 2012 the IUCN Red List uplisted the species from “near threatened” to “endangered”.

These population declines have been caused by a combination of factors: the loss and conversion of the vulture’s habitat for agriculture, declines in wild ungulate populations, hunting for use in traditional medicine, capture for the illegal live trade and traditional medicine, electrocution on electricity pylons, drowning in farm reservoirs, persecution and poisoning.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust confirmed that the recent declines were worrying and that further action was clearly required. Botha recommended measures including legal protection for the species in all range countries, and a vulture monitoring network.

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