Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

19 July 2014

Tanzania: Poachers Target Vultures to Cover Their Tracks

PYTHONS, leopards, lions, cheetahs, rhinos and elephants are traced and killed for their various body parts by poachers. And due to a demand for rhino horns and elephant tusks in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan the bad guys are now hunting and killing vultures to cover their tracks.

With the intensified fight against poachers in Africa these thugs regard vultures as enemies as their presence alerts park rangers where a carcass is located Vultures assemble and hover in the sky up to tens of miles above a killing by using their powerful eyes empowered by a telephoto vision mechanism which helps them pin point a killing in the middle of the open savannah where the human eye cannot match this ability.

The Kiswahili name for a vulture is 'tumbusi' and their large wings enable them to dive down at a speed of 18 miles per hour sending powerful waves with signals to others who may be up in the sky 20 miles away. Vultures clean the savannah by eating the remains of hundreds of animals that die due to natural causes such as ageing.

A hundred vultures are capable of devouring the carcass of an African buffalo weighing 1,000 kilos and can finish it off within minutes.

The skeleton they leave behind is ground to dust by powerful bacteria thereby enriching the soil. This makes vultures rather efficient in the natural process of cleaning the wild than hyenas and jackals who depend on their nostrils to sniff out carcasses and spend hours locating the dead prey in the middle of jungle.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the mass killing vultures started in Asia in the early '70s and had devastating effects in countries such as India where more than 60 million vultures by the end of 1990 were reduced to almost none. Over the two decades 1,500 pairs of breading vultures have been killed in South Africa.

The poachers poisoned vegetables and bread and killed buffaloes and zebras. The poisonous carcasses were eaten by vultures who in turn fed their chicks resulting into the massive death of Cape vultures.

This is a catastrophic phenomena in Africa as a single carcass can kill up to 1,600 birds. In Kenya and Tanzania some farmers use poisoned carcasses of cattle to target leopards and lions who steal their livestock. Unfortunately the carcasses are eaten by vultures as the big cats only eat what they kill.

In Tanzania, about two years ago more than eight elephants were found dead just outside Manyara National Park with all their tusks smoothly removed from the carcasses indicating that they were poisoned with a combination of chemicals before the tusks were hacked off. It's not yet known how many vultures could have been poisoned from these elephants.

It is an indication that with the 28 game reserves and 17 national parks scattered all over the country, Tanzanians are in great danger of suffering from water borne diseases with this chemical warfare. Without vultures game parks will create health problems for villages and townships such as Mtowambu village, located near Lake Manyara National Park as the digestive system of these birds have corrosive acids that fight harmful bacteria.

With no vultures, harmful bacteria from rotting carcasses will land on our dining tables by flies. In Asia, especially in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where a large part of the population do not eat beef, cows are left to roam and die naturally the effects of decline in the number of vultures brought about a rise in cholera and other water borne diseases.

In Tanzania people don't like or even sympathise with vultures as most of us regard these birds as non attractive, but their absence in Tarangire, Mikumi, Ngorongoro or other major tourist attraction will cause a rise in the number of flies in the game parks turning them into dangerous zones for tourists making the country lose foreign currency.

The Griffon vulture which migrates into Serengeti National Park from Europe and Asia joins forces with the resident Nubian vulture making the Park clean and attractive.

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