Ethiopia is known for its endemism both fauna and flora. Among others, raptors are an important part of our biodiversity: Culturally, economically as well as socially. Recent research conducted informs us that vulture populations in Africa are on the decline and may be on the verge of collapse in the next half century unless we make efforts to save them. Like many other biodiversity resources, they [raptors] are under increasing threat from poisoning, habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, lack of food, poachers and careless farmers.
Globally, the death through poisoning of raptors/vultures, is increasingly becoming cause for alarm. Like many other countries, Ethiopia is known for harboring a variety of raptor species both migratory and non-migratory. Ethiopia may also have the largest population of Bearded Vultures in the world, although this needs to be verified. It is also one of the few countries on the African continent known to have a resident and breeding population of Golden Eagles.
However, not much is done in terms of biodiversity research, particularly on their threats like poisoning of raptors in the country. In Ethiopia, there is no such a culture to directly poison birds unless indirectly. Since recently, there are reports coming from the rural area of this country, specially from Negelle area [ Ato Mengistu Wondafrash CEO of EWNHS Pers. Communication] at least in a couple of incidences there were a number of vultures including White-backed, Rüppell’s’ and Egyptian vultures found dead due to a poison [which is not yet known]put to kill a hyena. Similarly there are unconfirmed reports where the majority of the human population is living that the continual use of (as yet unknown) pesticides is decimating some of the raptors like Augur Buzzard and Tawny Eagle. This is even clearly being mentioned and capitalized by the local farmers that they haven’t seen some birds [raptors] for a long time since they started application of these agricultural inputs to protect their farm from vermin animals including rodents. It is believed that the farmers are applying pesticides every year in order to eradicate or kill those rodents which are feeding on the farmers’ crops. Probably, the farmers are using this pesticide by spreading all over on the ground that they thought is a hiding place for the rodents and or to those areas that is affected by the rodents. Similarly, the cattle keepers might be using this unknown poisoning to kill the hyenas which are considered as one of the species always being mentioned in the human-wildlife conflict issues.
One can be sure that such approaches may not be a sustainable solution in the long-term in this inter-woven world since this will have only a short-term and limited impact to address the issue. Unfortunately, these raptors are preying on the dead rodents, which are poisoned and are becoming victims of this vicious circle. Here the natural prey-predator relationship is disrupted and thereby the whole ecosystem will be endangered in the long-term.
For the moment, it seems that very few individuals are concerned about this poisoning issue. There needs to be an urgent action to begin with. In this regard the immediate thing that comes to once mind is to work together with the agricultural extension workers who are advising the farmers on how to use such nasty chemicals to kill rodents. The agricultural extension agents are found in all rural villages. Similarly, it is important to work together with the concerned agricultural offices [at all levels], particularly at local levels, farmers themselves and other stakeholders. The awareness can be done through workshops [sensitization], production of published materials, T-shirts, caps and the like. Teachers and students [by distributing pen, pencil and the like] in the rural areas can be considered as a good entry point as well to address this issue within a short period of time. Similarly, it would be necessary to identify the type of pesticides being used and find an alternative approach. Moreover, it is important to educate the public, especially farmers and agricultural extension workers that such approach will not be sustainable and economical as well, which means that the approach only helps to address or kill the rodents for a while but will not eliminate for all. However, such poisoning approach will disrupt the natural/biological [which was done without a penny] control of rodents by removing the predators from the equation.
By the same token, it is important to identify properly those areas where this poisoning is being taking place, when, how, who and the type of poison being used and the species of birds that are being affected in the process needs to be thoroughly investigated.
National Project Coordinator
Sustainable Development of the Protected Area System of Ethiopia Project, EWCA
P. O. Box 122 440 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia