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Vultures and Eagles Poisoned in Masai Mara

Nairobi, KenyaWildlifeDirect reports that 25 vultures and 2 eagles have been poisoned with an agricultural pesticide suspected to be either Furadan (a carbofuran) or Marshall (a carbosulfate), both manufactured by the American agrochemical company FMC.

The 25 Ruppells Griffon, White Backed, and Hooded vultures, a Tawny eagle, and a Bateleur eagle were discovered by game scouts of a conservation project in the area, Predator Aware, in the vicinity of a wildebeest carcass that had been laced with poison by suspected cattle herders. WildlifeDirect was informed of the incident on Friday, October 29, and immediately sent their officer Enoch Mobisa to the scene to collect evidence and assess the situation.

The pink colouration and powdery form of the substance found sprinkled on the well-eaten wildebeest carcass point more towards Marshal than Furadan. It is known that local herders have been using Marshall to kill fleas and other external parasites by dusting their sheep and goats with this substance. Game scouts believe that the poison was intended for lions and other large predators, which the herders may have targeted in retaliation for suspected predation on their livestock. “It is not clear why the local community would lace a wildebeest,” says WildlifeDirect CEO Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Past incidents have involved lacing of the carcass of a domestic animal, typically a cow, that has been killed by lions.

Although such massive die-offs are characteristic of poisoning and the presence of a familiar pesticide on the wildebeest carcass also points to poisoning, the Kenya Wildlife Service collected samples from the dead birds and took them to their labs to confirm the cause of death. WildlifeDirect’s Enoch Mobisa collected beaks, crops, and talons, which he delivered to a professor at the Kenya Polytechnic University College (a constituent college of the University of Nairobi) for independent toxicology testing. Mobisa is conducting a research project, funded by the National Geographic Society, on the effects of pesticides on wildlife. “Together with the Mara scouts, KWS, and the police, we formed a team, and after taking samples, we decided to gather the carcasses and destroy them by burning,” said Mobisa.

Local leaders, led by the area chief and police command, condemned the act and rallied youth to support the campaign against retaliatory killing of predators by either poisoning or spearing. When informed of the danger that these poisons pose for human life, the area chief called on WildlifeDirect to organize an awareness campaign to educate herders on these dangers. The chief promised to mobilise barazas (local open-air meetings) for this purpose, and WildlifeDirect will provide educators.

This incident brings back disturbing memories of the rampart poisoning of lions, hyenas, and raptors in the recent past. These poisonings elicited international outcries culminating in the airing of a feature on CBS News’ 60 Minutes program in March, 2009, and the consequent discussion of the matter in Kenya’s parliament. The 60 Minutes feature prompted Furadan manufacturer FMC to declare a withdrawal and buy-back programme of the lethal pesticide in Kenya and East Africa, although the pesticide can still be bought in Tanzania.

Monitor WildlifeDirect for updates.