|Rueppell's vulture (Photo by: Hans Hillewaert, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)|
Elephant poaching has been a problem for a quite some time. Poachers kill these majestic beasts primarily to harvest their ivory tusks to sell illegally. The tusks are made into trinkets, which are seen as status symbols in some parts of the world. Elephant hides are also sometimes taken and sold. Rhinos are being poached as well for their horns, which can be carved into objects or used in traditional medicine. Even though trade of ivory is restricted, demand through illegal ivory networks is rising, and poaching is getting worse.
Poaching these animals is bad enough. However, to make things even worse, elephant and rhino poachers are also killing off vultures. Why are they harming these birds? As most people know, vultures eat dead animals. When something as large as an elephant dies, you'll find many vultures gathering near the carcass to partake of the feast. Police and wildlife officials use this behavior to their advantage. They can follow the vultures to track the poachers.
Unfortunately, these poachers have no respect for lives other than their own (if they did, they wouldn't be poaching), and the vultures threaten their "businesses." To try to kill off the informers, the criminals poison the elephant and rhino carcasses. When the vultures, who are just looking for something to eat, consume the meat, they die. The poachers hope to eliminate the vultures in the areas they operate. Sadly, these lawbreakers don’t seem to realize that vultures travel huge distances to find food, so it’s impossible to get rid of vultures in a particular zone. Or maybe they do realize it and are fine with playing a huge part in the extinction of these birds.
This past July, there was a poisoning incident in Namibia that killed 600 vultures. This just adds to the list of problems vultures in Africa have been facing for decades. Thanks to habitat loss, predator poisoning from farmers, and the use of veterinary drugs that are deadly to birds, vulture populations in West Africa have declined by 42% in the last 30 years. One species, the Rueppell’s vulture, has been hit particularly hard, with an 85% decline.