According to the African Wildlife Poison Database (numbers from 1961 – Nov 2019):
THREATS TO AFRICAN VULTURES
In 2015, the IUCN Conservation Status of several vulture species were ‘uplisted’ based on their rate of decline. African vultures are facing several threats, making their conservation a formidable task.
Vultures form an important ecological component of our natural environment, cleaning up dead carcasses and decreasing the spread of some diseases. The relationship between vultures and people is also a venerable one – vultures played roles in some early societies, including the Egyptian and the Hindu societies; vultures continue to be used as symbols or metaphors in modern societies; and vulture body parts are used in muthi.
Today, vultures face an unprecedented onslaught from human activities. They have to cope with electrocutions and collisions with electrical structures, poisonings, land-use changes, a decrease in food availability and exposure to toxicity through veterinary drugs, to list just a few of some of the challenges facing vultures today.
Vultures, positioned at the top of the food chain, are an indicator of the health of the environment below them – and dependent for their survival on a healthy environment. As such the work of the Vulture Conservation Programme (“VulPro”) is intended and expected to favourably impact on many other aspects of the environment – beyond vultures.
While a single poisoned elephant can kill hundreds of vultures, wiping out an entire colony or local population, power line electrocutions and collisions are the most profuse threats to vultures in South Africa. The power line grid is expansive and often structures are out of date and unsafe for the large birds to perch on.
Poisoning incidents seem to be on the rise, or at least are much more regularly reported. Poisonings occur from a few means – poachers lace elephant or rhino carcasses to intentionally kill vultures and as scavengers, vultures inevitably ingest any poison implemented to kill other animals (either ‘problem’ animals like jackals or leopards) or prized animals targeted by poachers.
Superstitious beliefs are prominent, creating a demand for vulture parts, especially the head (brains, eyes) and feet, in the establishment of luck and forecasting the outcomes of events like soccer matches and the national lotto.
As humans have expanded over the South African landscape, carcasses from natural deaths are sparse, prompting the creation of over 250 vulture restaurants over Southern Africa. These sites provide food specifically for vulture populations mostly from pig and cattle farm mortalities. These sites are strictly managed as some Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used on cattle can be, even in small amounts, lethal to vultures. Diclofenac in particular (Voltaren for people) caused the deaths of millions of vultures on the Indian Subcontinent in the early 2000’s.