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International call to learn to love vultures - or lose them

Written By vibykhmer on Sunday, September 6, 2009 | 12:27 AM

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afrol News, 4 September - BirdLife Partners in Africa and elsewhere have joined with raptor conservation and research organisations around the world to call for an “image makeover” for vultures. They will be celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day on 5 September 2009.

This comes against a backdrop of recent reports of problems facing vultures in Africa and the ongoing ones in Asia.

There have been mass vulture deaths in East Africa associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery, the partnership noted.

Other threats identified include power line collisions and electrocutions, disturbance at breeding sites, drowning in farm reservoirs, direct persecution and declining food availability.

Vultures are said to fulfill an extremely important ecological role. They keep the environment free of carcasses and waste, restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism, and help control numbers of pests such as rats and feral dogs by reducing the food available to them. They are of cultural value to communities in Africa and Asia, and have important eco-tourism value.

"Indeed vultures provide a perfect example of the link between birds and people. Loss of vultures would mean loss of important natural services to people, for example the cleaning of the environment of animal carcasses and waste at no charge”, said Dr Hazell Shokellu Thompson, BirdLife's Regional Director for Africa.

"One major challenge to detecting and countering these threats is that there are very few people out there watching vultures, let alone counting them. Thus it is difficult to determine population trends and to detect declining populations", said Paul Kariuki Ndang'ang'a, BirdLife's Species Programme Manager for Africa. "The Asian Vulture Crisis has shown that without proper monitoring, a population crash can take place virtually undetected."

The BirdLife Africa Partnership is therefore urging people to notice the important roles that vultures play, and the crisis they are currently facing. Organisations and individuals that have the capacity are encouraged to take action for vultures where feasible.

Some of the main conservation actions that have been identified for vultures in Africa include: establishing a monitoring network for African vultures, establishing legal protection for the species in range states, eliminating the veterinary use of diclofenac and other toxic drugs in Africa, and carrying out education and awareness programmes, particularly targeted at farmers, to reduce persecution, unintentional poisoning and hunting for cultural reasons.

By staff writer

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