Vultures are not the prettiest of species and therefore do not garner a lot of support for their conservation. However, they are in trouble across the world. The most common vulture in Uganda is the African White-backed Vulture, but other species such as the hooded, lappet-faced, Rüppell's, Egyptian, white-headed and palm nut vultures are common. Vultures play a critical role in cleaning up the carcasses of dead animals and weeding out sick animals. They help to keep disease outbreaks down by removing sources of disease before they can spread. WCS wants to conserve vultures across their range in Africa and we have been working towards this in Uganda in recent years.
WCS activities to conserve vultures in Uganda
WCS has undertaken several a research projects in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) to provide baseline information on the various species and to assess ways in which we can reduce the threats they face.The project has undertaken:
Population surveys :using cattle carcasses as bait , WCS estimated a minimum of 168 vultures from four species in QENP in 2011. We are currently in the process of trialling a mark-recapture method to check this estimate.
Monitoring movements: WCS radio-collared two White-backed Vultures to determine their movements in the park in 2010? One of these flew directly from Queen Elizabeth National Park to Lake Mburo National Park, 100 km to the east,and back indicating that they probably move between protected areas on a regular basis and are familiar with areas where they might find wildlife carcasses.We plan to collar more vultures. This approach will allow us to identify roosts and nesting sites, which may be important for these birds.
Tackling carbofuran sales: We have also made an assessment of carbofuran insecticide suppliers around the park and in Kampala. This survey showed that while there were few outlets in the region, the availability of options for poisoning were numerous and it would be difficult to restrict the supply. We have therefore opted for other methods to combat the human-wildlife conflict over livestock loss and are tackling this under our program on lions in this park.
Main threats to vultures in Uganda
Vultures are declining throughout Uganda.This is partly a result of poisoning and partly due to loss of natural habitat where they can find carcasses to feed upon. Poisoning is often carried out by local communities using some form of insecticide, such as carbofuran. It is typically an act of retaliation for the killing of a cow, sheep or goat by a lion or leopard. Vultures feeding on the laced carcass are poisoned. Where poaching is involved, particularly for ivory, poisoning of vultures is often deliberate, so that their presence does not draw attention to the carcass. Our scientists have seen more than 50 individual vultures die from a single poisoning event. Given that we estimate vulture species numbers at no more than 500-750 in the country, this is a significant impact.