Africa’s vultures gliding towards extinction, experts warn

A--Vultures-09-11-2015ONE of the world’s biggest conservation groups – BirdLife International – has warned that vultures have rapidly become one of the most threatened families of birds on the planet, especially in Africa.

In its latest assessment, the conservationists hinted that six of Africa’s 11 vulture species are now at a higher risk of extinction. The main causes of the drop in African vulture populations are thought to be indiscriminate poisonings, where the birds are drawn to poisoned baits, use of vulture body parts in traditional medicine, and deliberate targeting by poachers, as the presence of vultures can alert authorities to illegally killed big game carcasses.

According to Dr. Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Africa Programme Director, “the rapid decline of the continent’s vultures has profound consequences for its people – as vultures help stop the spread of diseases by cleaning up rotting carcasses.

“However, now we are becoming aware of the sheer scale of the declines involved, there is still just enough time for conservationists to work with law-makers, faith-based organisations, government agencies and local people, to make sure there is a future for these magnificent scavengers.”

Worldwide, 40 more bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction in the 2015 Red List. Besides the vultures, these include many wading shorebirds, and other iconic species like Helmeted Hornbill, Swift Parrot, Atlantic Puffin, and European Turtle-dove.

Conversely, 23 species of birds have been downgraded to lower threat categories. In some cases, this reflects a better understanding of how they are faring, but some species have undergone remarkable recoveries as a result of conservation action, including Seychelles Warbler and Chatham Petrel.
“Vultures and other birds play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecosystems,” said Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “Their decline can have serious knock-on effects on other species and the many benefits provided by nature. While it is encouraging to see some positive outcomes of conservation action, this update is an important wake-up call, showing that urgent efforts need to be taken to protect these species.”

The organization had earlier written to the Federal Ministry of Environment seeking government’s support, and expressing concern on the widespread persecution of African vultures in Nigeria (and other countries).

The Director, Birdlife International Programme and Interim Chie Executive, Dr. Hazell Shokellu Thompson explained that African continent supports eleven species of vulture, of which eight are endemic to the continent. All of them are declining, but especially rapidly in West Africa.
“Nigeria hosts six vulture species, five of which are threatened by extinction. As you are aware, vultures play an extremely important role in nature. They are nature’s cleaners of the environment, keeping both natural and man-made habitats free of carcasses and wastes that can cause health hazards.

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