Vultures are scavenging birds of prey. They are large birds of open grassland and dryland habitats with their hunched posture and bald heads being used in cartoons to portray opportunistic greed. They are largely social in nature and travel over large areas. They are arguably nature’s most important scavengers since they have an intrinsic value in keeping our environments clean and free from carcasses and waste.
Vultures have long been considered by humans to be outcasts due to their association with death making them be feared. Despite their intimidating presence, vultures are pretty harmless. They lack the physical attributes to pose a threat to humans and have no incentive to attack humans although they are carnivorous and feed only on animals that are dead preventing disease particles from taking hold.
However, vultures are among the most threatened group of birds worldwide today. Seven of Africa’s eleven species of vultures are now on the edge of extinction, and decline has been alarmingly rapid over the last 50 years. In Kenya, the major aspect of human-wildlife conflict is poisoning.
In some areas of Kajiado county, more than sixty percent of vulture deaths are due to poisoning, particularly those bordering wildlife conservation areas. When a predator such as a hyena, or leopard, or lion attacks and kill cattle, herders in the community resort to lacing the carcass with poison in order to target the predator. The vultures get attracted to the poisoned carcass in large numbers and eventually die, yet they are not the primary targets.
In the most recent wildlife poisoning incident at the Olerai Conservancy in Narok County, 7 vultures died after feeding on a hyena carcass that was laced with poison and the only white-backed vulture that survived was airlifted to Olderkesi Conservancy for observation and recovery.