Vultures are in danger of disappearing. According to a new report from University of Utah biologists, such a loss would have serious consequences for ecosystems and human populations alike.
The rapid population shift from rural to urban in parts of Africa has displaced vultures from their habitat. A massive growth in wind farms across the continent —the birds often collide with the turbines.
The primary threat to vultures, according to the report published in Biological Conservation, is the presence of toxins in the carrion they consume. Hundreds can feast on a carcass that has been poisoned. Populations of most vulture species around the world are now either declining or on the brink of extinction.
Biologists Evan Buechley and Çağan Şekercioğlu suggest several inherent ecological traits also contribute to vultures’ extinction risk, including their large body masses, slow reproductive rates and highly specialized diets. The greatest external threat to vultures, however, is poisoning.
Poisoning occurs in California from toxic lead bullet fragments in gut piles of animals left behind by hunters. In India in the mid-1990s, the cause of the vulture decline was from diclofenac, a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that relieved pain in cattle, but proved highly toxic to vultures.
Today sub-Saharan Africa has a vulture crisis. Natives are using potent newly affordable poisons are used to control predatory pests, such as lions or jackals. These toxic chemicals work their way through several ecosystems of birds, mammals and insects. Poachers also poison carcasses so vultures do not pinpoint locations of illegally taken animals.