The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife Saturday joined the rest of the world in commemorating International Vultures Awareness day.
This day is used to create awareness about the role and importance of Vultures in the ecosystem and to humankind and the myriad threats facing the species.
The day was marked at Hellsgate National park in Naivasha amid concerns of dwindling numbers of the species. According to the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) poisoning of the birds accounted for 61 percent of the deaths of the endangered species.
The park is one of the main breeding areas for some of the eight species of the vultures in the country with statistics indicating that there are over 2,000 of the birds in the country.
“Vultures are nature’s garbage disposers as they devour carcasses of animals thus keeping the environment clean and therefore limiting the spread of deadly diseases,” said Cabinet Secretary, for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala.
According to Wildlife PS Professor Fred Segor, the number of the birds of prey was on the decline mainly due to poisoning.
“Their numbers have been dwindling with 61 per cent lost due to poisoning, 29 for traditional medicine, nine due to electrical infrastructure and 1 per cent for food,” he said.
He said that poisoning, habitat loss and degradation, decreasing food availability and electrocution by power line poles were some of the threats facing the vultures.
There are eight species of vultures in Kenya.
The critically endangered species are White-backed, White-headed, Hooded and Rüppell’s Vultures while Egyptian and Lappet-faced Vulture are the endangered. Bearded Vulture is categorized as near threatened and the Palm Nut Vulture is of least concern
Herders who loose livestock to lions, hyenas, and other carnivores poison the carcasses to retaliate, but the vultures fall prey as collateral damage when they eat the same carcasses.
Vultures also aid in catching poachers. When poachers illegally kill animals and leave the carcass behind, vultures are usually the first to locate the carcass and they circle above the dead animal. This behaviour pinpoints authorities to the poached animals. Because vultures aid authorities, many people kill the birds.
The CS says communities in and around conservation areas need to undergo rigorous education on the importance of vultures to the ecosystem.
This will help to create awareness and reduce the negative impacts of wildlife poisoning so that the number of vultures can rise.