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20 Critically Endangered vultures dead from poisoning; many more deaths prevented by conservationists’ quick response

5 February 2019

Nairobi, Kenya –On Sunday morning, 27th January, 2019, Eric Ole Reson of The Peregrine Fund and the Masai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association discovered 20 dead and five critically ill vultures. All had fed on a poisoned spotted hyena at the periphery of the world famous Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Fortunately, having been trained in the forensics of wildlife poisoning intervention, Eric knew exactly what to do. He immediately mobilized personnel from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, Nature Kenya, and Mara Predators Conservation Program (MPCP), plus rangers from Olare Motorogi conservancy, Pardamat conservancy, and Naboisho conservancy. The community responded, and a substantial number of deaths were prevented. The hyena and poisoned vultures were immediately burned to decontaminate the scene. This is just the latest example of how the survival of Critically Endangered vultures and other endangered species in Kenya is threatened by illegal wildlife poisoning.

Since 2016, Birdlife International, The Peregrine Fund, Nature Kenya, and the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust along with a growing number of other partners have been working to address and tackle the scourge of retaliatory wildlife poisoning in southern Kenya that has devastated populations of critically endangered vultures and other scavengers. Retaliatory poisoning usually occurs when livestock are attacked by predators such as lions, hyenas, and leopards. Without compensation in place, livestock farmers resort to lacing their dead livestock with easily accessible agro-chemicals with the intention to kill predators. Vultures that scavenge in large numbers on dead animals often succumb to the poison and hundreds can die as a result.

Sunday’s event could have killed hundreds of vultures if it had not been discovered and appropriately decontaminated so quickly. Prior to this recent event, the partnership to stop poisoning has had other successes as well. In the past two years, the planned poisoning of two lion prides was averted, and the overall poisoning of vultures in the Masai Mara has been reduced by more than 50%. This success is a direct result of in-depth research, awareness creation, identification of poisoning hotspots, and training of local community champions to respond rapidly and decontaminate poisoned carcasses.

Ole Reson encountered the dead and dying vultures at Olkurroto, an area north of the Masai Mara in Olare-Motorogi Conservancy. These conservancies have been instrumental in creating habitat for wildlife such as carnivores, while also leading to increased tourism potential, and increased economic development for local Masai communities through job creation and revenue from the leasing of land for wildlife and tourism.

Twenty vultures were found dead and five were rescued, of which three were treated with Atropine and released. Two were initially kept under observation, but have also now been released. Ole Reson was on routine patrol when he saw the vultures struggling to fly. He then mobilized Kenya Wildlife Service rangers that included chief veterinarian Dr. Limo from KWS and Nature Kenya staff. Raptor expert Simon Thomsett from the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust flew down immediately to the scene and assisted Dr. Limo with forensic sample collection and the rescue of two birds (a Ruppell's and a Lappet-faced Vulture) and helped decontaminate the scene. The hyena and poisoned vultures were immediately burned, a rapid response technique that has proven effective in preventing further secondary poisoning and losses.

Said Ole Reson of The Peregrine Fund, “Whilst this event is indeed unfortunate and uncalled for, it highlights and significantly underpins the value of our series of Wildlife Poisoning Intervention Trainings and the subsequent rapid response to poisoning across Kenya that we have learned from partners in South Africa and are now conducting on a landscape level.”

The partners, with support from Fondation Segre, the BAND Foundation, the Whitley Fund for Nature, the Narok County Government, Endangered Wildlife Trust, and Kenya Wildlife Service, have been actively involved in vulture conservation activities to reduce wildlife poisoning in the Masai Mara.

“The work of multiple partners across the southern Kenya landscape has established a growing network of rangers, security personnel, tour guides, scientists, conservationists, conservancy managers, and government officials that are committed and dedicated to ensuring that mortalities from poisoning events are at a bare minimum. This work will eventually stamp out wildlife poisoning altogether,” said Dr. Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya.

Rebecca Garbett, Vulture Conservation Manager for Birdlife International in Africa said, “Illegal wildlife poisoning is a huge problem for the future survival of vultures and carnivores across the continent. When scavengers and carnivores are lost from an ecosystem, the remaining imbalance can cause unexpected human and livestock health problems. The good news is that we have a strong network of people at all levels, working together to respond to a poisoning incident, saving birds from dying, and creating awareness about the value of vultures for the Masai Mara and beyond.”

"I was impressed by the speed at which people responded to the site, and it is gratifying to see concerned individuals and organizations working together to minimize losses from poisoning. Had the team not responded to the poisoning event in time, we would have likely seen more than 100 dead vultures. This event really highlights the value of training individuals, who work on a wide spectrum of things, to efficiently respond to a poisoning incident,” said Simon Thomsett, Director and Trustee of the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust.

Dr. Munir Virani, Director of Global Conservation Strategy of The Peregrine Fund, said “The rapid clean-up is a vital part of preventing more casualties at a poisoning event, but it is also important to note that the growing awareness and involvement of many stakeholders augments the network of supporters needed to prevent mass poisonings in the first place. As such, we believe our approach is the single best way of ensuring the persistence of vultures in Kenya and beyond.”

The existence of vultures is crucial to society because they are productive and provide countless environmental services to humanity and biodiversity. Their survival is not just protected by Kenya’s obligations under international law, but also under Kenya’s Vision 2030 commitments.

The protection of these birds and other wildlife is a primary duty for everyone and, as Kenya is a signatory to the Raptors MoU of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), authorities should take decisive actions to increase protection for vultures and help prevent their extinction.

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For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner

Director of Global Engagement
Main Phone: 208-362-3716
Direct Phone: 208-362-8277

The Peregrine Fund