National Geographic : 2016 Jan
94 national geographic • january 2016 the chemical family that includes Furadan. And although vultures in India face just one major threat—unintentional poisoning—vultures in Africa face many more. In July 2012, 191 vultures died after feasting on an elephant that had been poached and then sprinkled with poison in a Zimbabwean nation- al park. A year later roughly 500 vultures were killed after feeding on a poison-laced elephant in Namibia. Why do poachers, intent on ivory, target vultures in this way? “Because their ket- tling in the sky over dead elephants and rhinoc- eroses alerts game wardens to their activities,” Ogada says. Ivory poachers now account for one-third of all East African vulture poisonings. Cultural practices have also taken a toll on vultures. According to André Botha, co-chair of the vulture specialist group at the Inter- national Union for Conservation of Nature, many of the birds found at poached carcasses are missing their heads and feet—a sure sign they’ve been sold for muti, or traditional healing. Shoppers at southern African markets have lit- tle trouble buying body parts believed to cure a range of ailments or impart strength, speed, and endurance. Dried vulture brain is also popular: Mixed with mud and smoked, it’s said to conjure guidance from beyond. Still, the biggest existential threat to African vultures remains the ubiquitous availability and use of poisons. FMC, the Philadelphia-based maker of Furadan, began buying back the com- pound from distribution channels in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania—and suspended sales in South Africa—following a 60 Minutes segment on lion poisonings in 2009. But the compound, in generic form, persists. Agriculture is the sec- ond largest industry in Kenya, and the nation has a long history of using toxins to combat out- breaks of disease and pests. Anyone can walk into a Kenyan agro-veterinary shop and, for less than two dollars, buy highly toxic pesticides off the shelf—to kill insects, mice, feral dogs, hyenas, leopards, jackals, and even fish and ducks meant VulPro founder Kerri Wolter brings a Cape vulture, its wing injured when it flew into a power line, to a veterinarian near Pretoria. Poisoning by poachers is the biggest threat to African vultures, but power-line collisions pose another. Conservationists are urging Africa’s power companies to help find solutions to the threat their lines present to vultures and other birds.