Vultures have an undeserved bad reputation. They’re often seen as dirty, ugly scavengers, congregating around dead or dying animals. But the reality is that ecosystems rely on these birds which play many important roles.
While their choice of food may turn your stomach, they’re helping to reduce the spread of disease by cleaning up carrion!
Yet, vulture populations — particularly in Africa and Asia — have plummeted in the last few decades. For instance, the white-backed vulture of India was so abundant in 1980 that it was considered one of the most common large birds of prey in the entire world. Now, just a few decades later, it is critically endangered after a 99.9 percent decline.
Vultures need large ranges to scan for food and undisturbed areas in which to nest. They also need an abundance of prey species since they rely more on chance than their own hunting skills to eat. All of these things have been reduced by human activity. Meanwhile, there is a dramatic increase in secondary poisoning. Vultures feed on carcasses laced with poison, intended to kill jackals or other predatory carnivores. Or they are poisoned by the lead in animals left behind by hunters. Or they are poisoned by diclofenac, a veterinary drug given to livestock which is toxic to vultures who feed on animals that die naturally or are brought down by other animals.
A report by PhysOrg states, “Throughout Africa, vulture populations have suffered an alarming collapse in numbers in recent years. In rural parts of West Africa some species have declined by over 95%, while the famous Maasai Mara National Reserve has lost an average of 62% of its vultures over the past three decades. Aside from poisoning – both targeted and incidental – vultures are threatened by wind turbines, electricity pylons, habitat destruction, food loss and poaching.”
Of the 23 vulture species of the world, 16 are considered near threatened, vulnerable to extinction, endangered or critically endangered. Africa and India are experiencing a vulture crisis.
Plights of Vultures in Nigeria
The plights of Vultures in Nigeria have been that of orphans who are often neglected by the society to fend for themselves in an environment that is becoming more hostile for their survival due to several factors among which is the commercial exploitation of the birds for fetish and trado-medicinal uses.
The mounting hostility has significantly accounted for the continued disappearance of these magnificent birds from our skies.
To encourage indigenous approach to biodiversity conservation and stall further threats to the already declining population of Vultures in Nigeria, the BirdLife and Birdfair International floated a flagship initiative and award to inspire the direct involvement of young and vibrant nature enthusiasts in biodiversity conservation.
Through the initiative, a group of young conservation leaders from the Nigerian Conservation Foundation are engaging communities in the support zones (SZCs) of Gashaka Gumti National Park (GGNP) located in Taraba state, Nigeria in a conservation soccer tournament (CST). The CST was conceived with the aim of fostering mutual partnership and cooperation among the SZCs for the protection of Vultures.
The unprecedented turn-out, supports and commitment of all spheres of stakeholders across the participating communities allude to the feasibility and practicability of engaging sport as a tool for creating far-reaching awareness and building of formidable platform to enhance community governance for vulture conservation.
To further solicit extended engagement of the emirate and in recognition of the support shown by the emirate to the fledging concept of vulture conservation in Gashaka kingdom, the team presented an award to the Emir of Gashaka kingdom, HRH, Alhaji Zubairu H/Gabdo Mohammadu as the Royal Vulture Ambassador.
He was cheered by over 3500 villagers who converged to witness the final match between Serti A and Goje communities. Serti A team finally emerged the winner on penalty shoot-out against Goje community with a margin of 5 – 3 goals. The award is the first of its kind in the history of Avifauna conservation in Nigeria.
With the results achieved so far, Vultures are beginning to have their fortune turned around through the efforts of the BirdLife/Birdfair Young Conservation Leaders in Nigeria.