Vulture populations are declining worldwide. Even a vulture whose stomach acids can kill deadly diseases, can’t handle pesticides, certain veterinary drugs, and lead from spent ammunition. Sadly, because they feed together, they will also die together when ingesting these dangerous substances. Vultures are important to ensure the health of humans and the ecosystems in which they live. In many countries their loss has created devastating problems. (See my blog post The Essential Vulture: Part 2—Why They are in Trouble, and Why it Matters.)
In this blog I will discuss six efforts being made to save vultures from extinction.
1) Captive breeding worldwide is one of the major ways to return endangered animals to the wild. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds web page reports that of the more than 400 condors now alive, all are descended from 27 birds that were brought into captivity in 1987, in a controversial but successful captive breeding program. Cornell continues to state, “More than 160 additional condors live in captivity within breeding programs at the Peregrine Fund, Los Angeles Zoo, and San Diego Zoo.” Partnerships with captive breeding programs between the Peregrine Fund, San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo, and Oregon Zoo are applying a cooperative effort to promote genetic diversity in their captive breeding programs. The goal is to create healthy populations in Arizona, California, Utah, and Mexico by transferring eggs among the facilities and sending young birds to appropriate release sites.
Zoos and organizations such as the Peregrine Fund are not only helping to save the condor but also many other species. The photo below is of a White-backed Vulture incubating an egg at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.
2) Captive breeding and release is vital to the California Condor in order to save it from extinction. Although essential, this is not the complete solution. Survival of the condor is dependent on human activities and interventions. If the public would embrace it, the easiest problem to solve is lead poisoning. Lead is life threatening for many birds, including eagles and the critically endangered California Condor. To combat this problem, workers catch each condor twice per year to test the lead levels in their blood. Birds that test high are treated to remove the lead through a technique called chelation. Unfortunately even with this effort, lead is still a major cause of death among the wild condor population.
Enjoy this video about Arizona’s Condors: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/condor_california_arizona
The only solution here is to convince people to switch from lead to non-lead bullets such as steel or copper. Condors need carcasses, which means hunters can actually be a help to them when using non-lead bullets, because the gut piles left behind can provide nutritious meals. In California, lead ammunition is banned when hunting in the historic range of the California condor. As of July 1, 2019, California law will require hunters to use non-lead ammunition state wide. Arizona is asking hunters to voluntarily not use lead ammunition within areas that condors frequent. Many hunters have a high ethical understanding and desire to preserve our wildlife and are therefore willing to switch to non-lead alternatives. More needs to be done, however, in educating the public on the reason they should switch and the efficiency of the lead-free choices. This is an excellent webpage that addresses the issue of lead-free ammunition. If you are a hunter, or know a hunter who can’t decide whether or not to switch, this site will address the issues many hunters have when making the decision.
Some states have partial bans on lead ammunition, depending on what and where you are hunting. Check this list of state by state laws pertaining to lead.
3) Educating local communities about the problems of poisoning is an important step in saving the local vulture populations. The Maasai use Furadan, a strong carbofuran insecticide, to poison animals that prey on their livestock, which in turn causes death in vultures who feed on the carcasses. The US based Peregrine Fund was one of the first international organizations that became involved with African Vultures. The African program director for the fund, Munir Virani, has created a program to teach Maasai youth about the value of vultures. Virani is also installing lights to deter lions and other predators away from livestock, thus eliminating the need for poisoning.
4) Odino, the assistant director to the Peregrine Fund’s African division advocates giving African people an economic incentive to save wildlife, such as hiring locals to search for poachers. In Kenya locals have been encouraged to earn money by leading bird watching tours. These efforts seem to be having some success.
5) Diclofenac a common drug used by farmers across Europe, Asia, and India to treat livestock disease is deadly to both eagles and vultures, causing them to succumb to kidney failure. Meloxicam is an alternative drug on the market that can be substituted for diclofenac. In Europe and parts of Asia, farmers have easy access to this drug. Meloxicam has been tested on vultures and a range of other bird species, and found to be safe. Since the patent is over 10-years old, this drug can be produced by any pharmaceutical company at a fairly low cost.
6) A number of countries are discussing a country wide ban of diclofenac. Several governments across Europe and Asia have, or are talking of creating, vulture safe zones, banning chemical substances known to harm vultures within the area. In 2006 veterinary use of diclofenac was banned in India, Pakistan, and Nepal, though it is still given to cattle illegally. Unfortunately, even with the strong opposition by environmental groups, these drugs continue to be used, even in European countries such as Spain and Italy. Hopefully, in the future more bans will be put in place and strictly enforced.
What Can You Do?
- Getting involved in educating others is one way to help. Many organizations dedicated to helping endangered species have active Social Web pages. If you are on Facebook or other social media, choose some of these organizations to follow, then share interesting articles they have posted with your friends.
- The Peregrine Fund and other nonprofit organizations, as well as many zoos, are active in promoting the survival of many birds of prey, as well as vultures. Through educating the public and active involvement in reintroducing species back into the wild, they are essential to the survival of many species. Find your favorites, and donate what you feel you can afford. Any amount you can donate will be greatly appreciated.
- Sign petitions aimed at protecting wildlife. You can start by signing this petition from BirdLife International to ban Diclofenac. Click the “Act Now” found on the last photo. http://www.banvetdiclofenac.com/en/home/#They-clean-up-your-fields
- Many nonprofit organizations devoted to education and/or the preservation of animal species are in need of volunteer workers. If there is one in your area, and you have the time, you many find becoming a volunteer a rewarding experience. Enjoy this short video on saving Asia’s Vultures: https://vimeo.com/185803681
If you are interested in further reading on this topic visit the links listed below.
“Africa’s Vultures Threatened by An Assault on All Fronts” http://e360.yale.edu/features/africas_vultures_threatened_by_an_assault_on_all_fronts
“Can We Save the World’s Vultures?”
California Condor #4 and #22 by Ken Clifton, Attribution, nonCommercial License, https://www.flickr.com/photos/by-ken
Hunters by m01229, Attribution 1.9 Generic License, https://www.flickr.com/photos/39908901@N06/
The White-backed Vulture is my own.
Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center by Armin Rodler, Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License, https://www.flickr.com/photos/arminrodler/
Young Boy Herding Cattle in Tanzania by tjabeljan, Attribution 2.9 Generic License, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jankruithof/