Vultures are hugely important for human and ecosystem health. They play a vital role in preventing the spread of disease, regulating scavenger populations, and spreading nutrients across landscapes. They are the most threatened bird group in the world, with eleven species of vulture endangered, primarily as a result of poisoning. In Asia, this includes the ingestion of diclofenac, a veterinary drug for cattle known to harm the birds, and across the globe, pesticides and fertilizers have been implicated in mass vulture mortalities.
In Cambodia, WCS has stabilized some of the largest remaining populations of critically endangered white-rumped, slender-billed, and redheaded vulture species. By protecting nests and providing supplementary food, these vultures continue to thrive in the Northern Plains Landscape. In 2014, the supplementary feeding program became financially sustainable, through a partnership with a local ecotourism partner, the Sam Veasna Centre. The WCS Health Program team in Cambodia assists with investigation of suspected vulture poisonings and rehabilitation of affected birds. Recently this work has gained the support of the US CDC as a result of humans also being accidentally poisoned after ingesting livestock meat contaminated with toxins.
Intentional and retaliatory poisoning is having a dire effect on populations of vultures in Africa (see infographic below). It comes in two forms primarily: Lions are poisoned so they don't prey on livestock and their carcasses are then consumed by vultures. Or, vultures are intentionally poisoned by elephant poachers since circling vultures could tip off anti-poaching patrols to the location of illegal killings. Either way, the decline of vital vulture populations across the continent is rapidly approaching that documented in Asia.
Condor is the common name for two species of New World vultures; the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere. In Latin America, our veterinarians frequently support the investigation and rehabilitation of Andean condors that have become the unintentional victims of retaliatory poisoning of carnivores.
WCS is working globally to stop the carnivore-livestock conflicts at the heart of the problem, to support local authorities in the investigation of wildlife poisoning events, and to increase awareness and regulation of the toxicity of commonly used medicines and agricultural chemicals.
Thumbnail Cambodia vulture photo image credit: Allan Michaud
Banner vultures at sunset photo credit: Martin Gilbert