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Addressing the African Vulture Crisis | A Q&A with André Botha

Africa’s vulture populations have experienced substantial declines over the last 30-40 years with most of the 11 species that occur on the continent being listed as critically endangered or endangered. To help raise awareness and to further educate the public on the role of South African conservation, tourism and more, DITSONG Museums of South Africa are hosting a free virtual lecture titled ‘Addressing the African Vulture Crisis’ this 25 March.
     Ahead of the public lecture, we spoke with André Botha, Programme Manager for Vultures for Africa, Endangered Wildlife Trust to find out a little more.

Creative Feel: First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started working in conservation?
André Botha: I have worked in conservation in Africa since 1989. I currently manage the Vultures for Africa Programme at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) in whose employ I have been since 2004. I have been co-chair of the IUCN SSC Vulture Specialist Group since 2012 and am the Overarching Coordinator for the Convention on Migratory Species Vulture MsAP which was adopted by all 128 range states in 2017. I am also Director Southern Hemisphere on the board of the Raptors Research Foundation.

CF: Can you tell our readers a bit about your upcoming public lecture with DITSONG? What is it about and what can attendees expect to take away from it?
AB: Africa’s vulture populations have experienced substantial declines over the last 30-40 years with most of the 11 species that occur on the continent being listed as critically endangered or endangered. The talk will focus on the efforts of conservationists, and the EWT’s Vultures for Africa Programme in particular, to halt this decline and ensure that vultures grace Africa’s skies in perpetuity. Most of the work that is being done is conducted within the framework of the CMS Multi-species Action Plan for African-Eurasian Vultures and we will look at the challenges, opportunities and lessons learnt from our efforts to implement this plan across the continent.

CF: Conservation, especially wildlife conservation, has been an important topic in South Africa for years. How do you think attitudes toward wildlife conservation have shifted over the years?
AB: Although wildlife conservation is an important component of the country’s economy in terms of employment and as a source of foreign income from tourism that make use of the natural environments and wildlife that conservation action secures, there is often a degree of apathy towards conservation in certain sectors of society while, in others, it is considered of significant value and importance to society’s well-being by ensuring that a range of eco-system services are maintained. The most significant change in attitude towards wildlife conservation is the lack of resources that are made available to properly manage a range of protected areas that are under the management of the various levels of government. Many of these areas are nothing more than protected areas on paper, but there are no resources and other support channelled towards their management. This has, in some instances, lead to a greater engagement by the NGO-sector and general public, and NGO’s often take the lead in initiatives that would have been the focus and responsibility of the government sector 40-50 years ago.

CF: What are some of the factors that have contributed toward the vulnerability of the African Vulture? What can we do, as ordinary citizens, to combat these factors?
AB: The most significant threat that has impacted vulture populations across Africa is the various forms of poisoning resulting from human-wildlife conflict, harvesting of vultures for consumption in belief-use and as a source of food, targeted poisoning by poachers of large mammals such as elephant as well as the unintended impact of lead poisoning in certain parts of the continent. In addition, the ever-expanding networks of energy infrastructure such as power-lines and wind turbines also pose a significant risk to large soaring birds such as vultures who either collide with, or are electrocuted on such structures. In certain areas, lack of sufficient food sources and destruction or disturbance of nesting sites also have a significant impact. Due to the incredible ability to cover vast distances and cross international boundaries, they are especially vulnerable to all of the above threats over a vast part of the continent and collaboration between countries in the conservation of these birds is essential. Ordinary citizens can contribute to reduce the impact of these factors by reporting incidents of poisoning, collisions or electrocutions or disturbance and destruction at nesting sites to the relevant authorities, or NGO’s who can engage in addressing these threats. The public are often our eyes and ears on the ground and provide a vital support service through reporting and initiating action to address threats that impact vultures or the habitats that they depend on.

CF: Lastly, how do you think organisations such as DITSONG are helping to raise awareness about our natural and cultural history, as well as speak to environmental issues such as the African vulture crisis?   
AB: DITSONG, through its various museums and other centres and activities, can play a critically important role in creating awareness among various sectors of society that visit these sites through their displays, educational programmes and research. Although some of the DITSONG nodes such as the McGregor Museum in Kimberley are strong supporters of the International Vulture Awareness Day that takes place the first Saturday in September every year, it would be fantastic if many of the other nodes could join us in support of the conservation of these ecologically important birds.

Addressing the African Vulture Crisis: The Challenges, Opportunities and Progress within the CMS Vulture MsAP Framework is a free-to-attend virtual lecture taking place this 25 March at 15:00 via Zoom. Full details and registration here.

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