Nairobi, Feb 6 – Twenty critically endangered vultures have died after feeding on a poisoned spotted hyena at the periphery of the world famous Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Peregrine Fund reported.

Five other vultures were seriously ill when the poisoning incident was discovered by Eric ole Reson of the Peregrine Fund and the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association on January 27.

Fortunately, having been trained in the forensics of wildlife poisoning intervention, Reson knew exactly what to do. He immediately mobilized personnel from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, Nature Kenya, and Mara Predator Conservation Program (MPCP), plus rangers from Olare Motorogi, Pardamat and Naboisho conservancies.

The community responded and a substantial number of deaths were prevented. The dead hyena and poisoned vultures were immediately burned to decontaminate the scene. Three of the ill vultures were treated with Atropine and released. Two were initially kept under observation, but have also now been released.

The incident is just the latest example of how the survival of Critically Endangered vultures and other endangered species in Kenya is threatened by illegal wildlife poisoning.

Since 2016, Birdlife International, the Peregrine Fund, Nature Kenya, and the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust along with a growing number of other partners have been working to address and tackle the scourge of retaliatory wildlife poisoning in southern Kenya that has devastated populations of critically endangered vultures and other scavengers.

Retaliatory poisoning usually occurs when livestock are attacked by predators, such as lions, hyenas, and leopards. With no compensation offered, livestock farmers resort to lacing their dead livestock with easily accessible agro-chemicals with the intention to kill predators.

Vultures that scavenge in large numbers on dead animals often succumb to the poison and hundreds can die as a result.

The January 27 incident could have killed hundreds of vultures if it had not been discovered and appropriately decontaminated quickly. Prior to the latest poisoning event, the partnership to stop poisoning has had other successes as well.

During the past two years, the planned poisoning of two lion prides was averted, and the overall poisoning of vultures in the Maasai Mara has been reduced by more than 50 per cent. The success is a direct result of in-depth research, awareness creation, identification of poisoning hotspots, and training of local community champions to respond rapidly and decontaminate poisoned carcasses.

Reson encountered the dead and dying vultures at Olkurroto, an area north of the Maasai

Mara in Olare-Motorogi Conservancy. These conservancies have been instrumental in creating habitat for wildlife such as carnivores, while also leading to increased tourism potential, and greater economic development for local Maasai communities through jobs creation and revenue from the leasing of land for wildlife and tourism.