Saved from poisoning, these rare African vultures take wing again

Three critically endangered African white-backed vultures saved from poisoning last year have been released back into the wild in Zululand, South Africa. Those involved in local vulture conservation have welcomed the release as a crucial step to helping the species survive.

The trio were saved from separate poisoning incidents that claimed the lives of 51 birds in total in northern KwaZulu-Natal province between October and December last year.

A specialist poison response team from local conservation group Wildlife ACT, which works closely with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (the provincial government’s conservation agency), farmers and local communities, and other conservation groups to protect three endangered vulture species in KwaZulu-Natal, took them to special facilities where they were treated and slowly nursed back to full strength.

The three white-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) were released on June 24. Two other birds, a lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) and another white-backed vulture and, which had also been rescued from the poisonings, were released back into the wild a few months earlier.

Chris Kelly, director of species conservation at Wildlife ACT, told Mongabay that the birds’ return to the wild was critical to the survival prospects of a species already under serious threat.

“These types of poisonings are detrimental to already dwindling vulture populations. Vultures find carcasses quickly and arrive in large numbers which means hundreds of vultures can be poisoned in a matter of minutes,” he said.

“Vultures are slow breeders — they only raise one chick a year and the natural survival rate is low, which means these types of mass mortalities have a huge knock-on effect on the existing population. The birds we rescue and rehabilitate are given a second chance, ensuring they can contribute further to the diminishing population.”

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Source: Mongabay