Vulture deaths: why poisoning should be considered poaching


Earlier this month, I posted about the death of 55 vultures because of one poisoned carcass in Sivsagar, Assam in North-eastern India.

January 2015: 55 vultures died after feeding on a poisoned carcass, Assam
January 2015: 55 vultures died after feeding on a poisoned carcass, Assam

Following the incident, a team from BNHS visited the site, holding awareness camps for the people in the area. The bottomline: poisoning carcasses leads to accidental deaths of species, often not even the intended species. (For instance, in this case, BNHS was told a carcass was poisoned to kill stray dogs, but vultures became the victims). But there is a second bottomline: a range of poisoning methods are killing species all over India, and frankly, no one cares. Poisoning is done for getting rids of ‘nuisance animals’ (like stray dogs), for illegally hunting birds, and sometimes just for kicks. The problem is growing. Now, these are three main points on my wishlist for conservation:

3. Poisoning is poaching. 

India is a country of contradictions, and we have serious poaching issues in India. Tigers and rhinos are poached with regularity, and the battles are bloody, messy, with hardened criminal networks involved. Poaching of rhinos for illegal trade is so severe that the Assam government was considering de-horning rhinos at one point (see my earlier op-ed here). This sort of poaching is fueled by international trade, and contraband is smuggled out of the country.

But other forms of poaching are gaining ground.

In simple terms, poaching refers to the killing of a protected animal. Poisoning cases are not part of an organised industry. They are still sporadic, and sometimes unintended. But they are happening with alarming regularity. Read about mass poisoning of vultures and peacocks in India.

Helpless: peacocks poisoned in Telengana
Helpless: peacocks poisoned in Telengana

It is now time for the law– in this case the Wildlife Protection Act– to recognise poisoning as poaching. Poisoning cases have been looked at with laxity by law enforcers. They need much more seriousness, and conviction. Poison such as pesticide is being misused for killing endangered species, non-target species, and for killing wantonly. How long can this be allowed?

2. Poisoning is a public health hazard.

The idea of poison being used in carcasses or other ways to kill animals– whether domestic, feral or wild– is a disturbing one, and a health hazard. As this earlier incident of poisoning shows, any form of poison is a threat to not just animals but also people. In this incident in Delhi’s posh Nizamuddin colony, poisoned bait was laid to kill stray dogs (which were considered a ‘menace’), which ended up killing dogs, crows AND kites.

Increasingly, migratory birds are being killed by using poison. These are then sold for human consumption in local markets. What would toxicology reports of consumption of poisoned meat show?

1. Poisoning is killing critically endangered species.

Gyps vultures are critically endangered. If poison enters the food chain, raptors drop first. Apart from critically endangered Gyps vultures, once-widespread Egyptian vultures and Steppe Eagles too are disappearing rapidly. (Perhaps they too are susceptible to illegal drug diclofenac, but more on that in another post). With the use of poison–especially unchecked, and unpunished use of poison– we are pushing over species which are already teetering on the brink, that grey area between survival and doom.

Please leave your thoughts below.

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