Bird lovers in Zimbabwe worry over extinction of Vultures

– Vulture species are declining because of agriculture which is taking up so much space for animal life, hence less food but poisoning is killing more, a bird lover revealed.

John Cassim

HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Vultures are essential for human health as they play a fundamental role that no other birds do, of cleaning our landscape but their decline is a nightmare.

Continued threats of extinction of vultures globally, have set bird lovers in the Zimbabwe into action, in a bid to conserve the family bird, as well as the environment.

Poor agricultural practices, poisoning of wildlife and killing vultures for rituals by people who want power and charm, are some of the reasons vultures are perishing.

Gary Stafford, founder and Director of Kuimba Shiri, expressed concern that vultures are being targeted for the wrong reasons.

“Vultures are one of those species that are declining because of agriculture, that is taking up so much space, removed most of the animal life, hence less food for the vultures,” Gary explained.

“We find that now vultures are more concentrated in game parks and wildlife corridors, where they can easily get food from wildlife carcasses,” Gary added.

Kuimba Shiri is a bird sanctuary that was set by Gary Stafford, 64, to nurse injured and orphaned birds as well creating awareness and demystifying mysteries woven around birds facing extinction such as vultures and owls.

Kuimba Shiri meaning (singing birds) is 25 km south west of the capital Harare.

– poisoning 

Bird conservation experts are worried about the growing carnage and fear that Vultures face extinction, not only in Zimbabwe, but across Southern Africa.

Between 2013 and 2015, hundreds of vultures died after feeding on more than 300 poisoned elephant carcasses in Hwange National Park north west of Zimbabwe.

In 2013, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management (ZimParks) indicated that 200 vultures died of cyanide poisoning.

Widespread poisoning could wipe out the entire breeding population of vultures in Zimbabwe, Gary bemoaned.

“In the game parks area animals are being poisoned intending to kill rhinos, elephants but then the vultures come and eat the meat that is poisoned, sometimes they drink the poisoned water.

It is essential for the authorities to reveal such cruel acts so that human behavior is changed otherwise these very important birds will be wiped out,” Gary said. 

There are about 16 Vultures species that are found in Africa of which 11 are the most common.

Of these 11 vulture species, seven (including five of the six species endemic to Africa) are listed as globally threatened. 

Five of these species such as the Hooded Vulture joined the Red List of threatened species only in 2011 according to a 2018 Bird Life International report on the extinction of Vultures, globally.

– myths of foretelling powers

Among communities surrounding national parks, myths and legends about vultures are common.

Some people associate the birds with good luck, while others link them with witchcraft.

Others note that vultures indicate the presence of a dead animal, a fact that has led poachers to target the birds directly to avoid detection.

“Owing to awareness campaigns by the ZimParks, we have been learning that the birds can tell us if there are poaching activities, taking within a particular area,” a Hwange resident told ConserveZim over the phone.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) has confirmed the myths around vultures.

“There is a widespread belief that one can foretell the future or prophesy if they use certain body parts from a vulture.

Owing to awareness campaigns by the ZimParks and other conservation stakeholders, as traditional healers we are now equipped to fight such practices,” George Kandiero, President of ZINATHA said.  

Kandiero indicated that the price of the head and some body parts of the vulture is way too high and beyond the reach of an ordinary man.

“We now believe there are very influential and rich people in our society that are buying these vultures for rituals hence the need to strengthen our fight against poaching,” Kandiero said.

The mushrooming of betting houses in the country has not made conservation work of vultures, any easier as the demand for their body parts has risen.

Betting has become a way of life in Zimbabwe with punters betting huge amounts of money of various sporting disciplines especially football.  

Meanwhile safari operators doted around the country have begun introducing vulture restaurants in a bid to provide healthy food as well as conserve the species.

Vultures vary in size and appearance depending on their species, colors range from white to brown to black with white accents, and many species have a bare crown, face and neck, accompanied by a neat or scraggly ruff of feathers.

Gary Stafford, Founder and Director of Kuimba Shiri on the outskirts of Harare explain the importance of preserving Vultures in Zimbabwe.

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