Petition calls for action following the largest incident of vulture killings in the world 

 

A coalition of international conservation organizations has today launched an online petition dubbed #StopTheKillings, calling for action to address the unprecedented mass killings of vultures in Guinea-Bissau through poisoning. These killings, the largest incident of mass vulture deaths in the world, are a big blow to conservation efforts to save Africa’s vultures. 

 

More than 2000 Critically Endangered Hooded vultures are reported to have died, following deliberate poisoning with an agricultural pesticide, which is highly toxic for vultures. Vultures play a vital role in our environment keeping it free of decaying carcasses, yet these majestic birds have experienced catastrophic declines around the world, with populations of all African vulture species plummeting by 70-97% over the last 50 years. In the Guinea-Bissau case, initial investigations indicate that this mass killing of vultures is being driven by belief-based use. It is erroneously believed that vulture heads and other body parts have special powers and can bring good luck to users. Widespread killing of vultures in Guinea-Bissau through poisoning – the leading cause of vulture mortality in Africa, threatens to wipe out stronghold populations of these Critically Endangered birds. 

 

The #StopTheKillings petition launched by BirdLife International, Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), The IUCN Vulture Specialist Group, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Peregrine Fund and The Organization for the Defence and Development of Wetlands in Guinea-Bissau (ODZH) is calling on the Guinea-Bissau government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the global community to take urgent action to halt these mass killings by bringing to account those responsible for these atrocities, and enforcing measures to safeguard vultures. 

 

“The large scale poisoning of vultures in Guinea-Bissau represents a major blow to vulture conservation efforts in the West African region and in Africa at large. We are urging the Guinea-Bissau government to address these mass killings urgently to safeguard Guinea-Bissau’s vulture populations”, notes Francisco Gomes Wambar, Executive Director of the Organisation for the Defence and Development of Wetlands in Guinea-Bissau (ODZH). 

 

The petition is also calling on the global community to support interventions aimed at halting the persecution of vultures in Guinea-Bissau and across Africa. 

 

“As a long-time amateur ornithologist I have come to admire birds’ life cycles and conservation needs. The mass deaths of vultures in my country highlights the dire vulnerability of Africa’s vultures and the need to urgently save these rapidly disappearing birds, while involving local communities in these interventions”, notes Professor Carlos Lopes, retired UN Under- Secretary-General and current Professor at the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town. 

 

“Poisoning of vultures in Guinea-Bissau is being driven by demand for vulture body parts used for superstitious purposes such as ritual charms. Changing this trajectory will require concerted efforts from all stakeholders, most importantly local and national authorities and civil society organizations. Halting the killings and urgently putting in place measures to protect vultures should be a priority”, says Rebecca Garbett, Vulture Conservation Manager at BirdLife International.

 

The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), BirdLife partner in Nigeria lends its support to the petition launched today in furtherance of its “save vulture” campaign project commenced in 2017. This awareness campaign has been done in major cities such as Lagos, Abuja etc, and also taken to the vulture hotspots states such Kano, Sokoto, Taraba, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Enugu, Yobe and Oyo. 

 

The vulture conservation campaign is on-going in Nigeria. 

 

Sign the #StopTheKillings petition HERE

 

 

 

Dr. Joseph Onoja, Technical Director, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), joined other world leaders in conservation to promote biodiversity at the webinar conference organised Department of Zoology, University of Lagos, on Friday, 22nd May 2020 in commemoration of the International Day of Biodiversity (IDB) 2020 with the theme “Our Solutions are in Nature”.

 

In his lecture titled “The Role of Wildlife to a Pandemic: potentials and challenges”, he said that

 

wildlife (plants and animals) are an integral part of the existence of humans, and nature has created a balance for the enjoyment and overall wellbeing of humans. However, humans in their ‘wisdom’ have interrupted and disrupted that balance. These disruptions have come with its attendant consequences e.g. Pandemics, floods, heat wave, sea surge etc.

 

He then proposed a four cardinal nature-based solutions to the identified challenges. They are sanitation, flood prevention, regulation as well as pest management. He said, “Wildlife have been placed to prevent such pandemics in the first place, but since we have found ourselves in this situation, wildlife will also be the solution.”

 

Other participants include Dr. Kevin Njabo, Department of Environmental Health Science, University of California, USA; Dr Anil Kumar, CEO, Foundation for Nature Conservation, India; Prof. J. K. Saliu, HOD, Department of Zoology, University of Lagos among others.

 

In a related development, the Nigerian Youth Biodiversity Network organised an online event to add their voice to the Day. 

 

Dr. Onoja in his presentation “Challenges and Opportunities of COVID-19 on Biodiversity Conservation in Nigeria" listed some of the challenges of Covid-19 on biodiversity conservation as hostility towards wildlife; inability to carry out field conservation work or patrols and reduced funding for conservation work because of economic downturn for funders.

 

He revealed further that though pandemic has caused a lockdown it has however presented a good opportunity for biodiversity conservation effort to be well promoted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(In this interview, Dr. Joseph Onoja, Director, Technical Programmes, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) reveals the interaction among business, people and nature.)

 

Q1. NCF has been at the vanguard of nature conservation and biodiversity in Nigeria over the last 40years. What are some of the milestones and challenges of nature conservation and biodiversity in Nigeria? 

A1. One major milestone that NCF has achieved is the development of the National Conservation Strategy – 1984. NCF has also led the advocacy for the domestication of the Endangered Species Act (Decree No. 11 of 1985), which was recently reviewed in 2016. NCF also played a lead role in the establishment of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) which is the precursor of the Federal Ministry of Environment. In terms of challenges of nature conservation in Nigeria, lack of awareness of the importance of biodiversity is at the fore. Another challenge is the fact that areas of high biodiversity coincide with areas of high poor rural population. This has led to overexploitation of nature, both by the rural population and by external, more organized cartel, who capitalize on the socioeconomic situation of these rural people to exploit biodiversity at a larger scale. 

 

Q2. The lockdown imposed to control the spread of COVID19 affected the operations of many organisations across Africa. How has it affected NCF’s work and how has NCF been able to adapt its operations? 

A2. No doubt, the lockdown has affected NCF's activities especially in the area of fieldwork. However, this challenge is being managed by our work approach. Our work approach ensures that community members living around the field sites and Protected Areas that NCF manages, make up the larger part of the workforce. This made it easier to continue work despite the lockdown. 

 

Q3. NCF is an advocate to ensure illegal trade of wildlife is stopped. Considering that wildlife is undomesticated, why and how are they crucial to humanity and livelihood? 

A3 Nature has created a delicate balance where these wildlife play critical roles for the overall conducive living of mankind in the world. For instance, a Pangolin consumes over 70 million ants and termites in one year saving a forest as large as 31 soccer fields. Imagine what will happen to mankind if 70 million ants and termites are unleashed on us!. Another example is the critical role vultures play in ensuring that #diseases don’t spread, by them cleaning up carcasses before they develop spores that will transmit infections such as Cholera, Botulism, etc. Or imagine how we will get our food if the incredible pollinators, Bees, disappear from nature. These are a few examples to illustrate the importance of wildlife to our survival and livelihood. 

 

Q4. What are roles can the government, corporate organisations, communities and individuals play in wildlife conservation? 

A4 Everyone has a role to play in the conservation of biodiversity because it concerns all of us. The government at all levels have to ensure policies that will promote nature conservation are put in place. “NewDealForNature” COVID19 Africa4Nature. Corporate organizations have to support nature conservation because the environment is the number 1 factor of production, without which they will not be able to produce or offer whatever service they have to offer. Communities and individuals also play vital roles as direct custodians of these wildlife by ensuring that their activities and actions do not impact wildlife negatively. 

 

Q5. Considering the negative impact of illegal wildlife trade, what policies and strategies could be implemented by African leaders? Are there countries, in or out of Africa, from whose approach we could draw lessons? 

A5. Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) is a transnational crime and can to a large extent, be combatted successfully by international cooperation with local input. There are some policy instruments which the governments of various national and regional levels are employing. However, a major gap is proper enforcement of these instruments and the capacity of Law Enforcement Agents. There are different countries doing their bits especially in Eastern and Southern African countries where enforcement of wildlife laws is at the same level with other crimes like armed robbery. 

 

Q6. Still about wildlife, are there relationships between illegal wildlife trade and the COVID19 pandemic, among other health emergencies such as Ebola in Africa in the recent years? 

A6. Absolutely! Naturally, some animals harbour some diseases which are not harmful to them and it will remain docile as long as it remains in their population. However, IWT disrupts that balance and such diseases become zoonotic and crosses over to the human population with devastating consequences. Most of these infections are passed through fluid and by handling (or manhandling) these animals, humans get infected. When animals are transported packed in cages, infected and non-infected ones, they become all infected and increases the likelihood of the infection crossing over to the human population. 

 

Q7. The COVID19 pandemic has impacted all the sectors on the African economy, what's your perspective of COVID19 and the various strategies deployed towards curbing the spread of the virus on nature conservation and biodiversity? 

A7. So far, there have been few visible strategies; one can confidently comment on such governments banning the handling of wildlife and closing down illegal wildlife markets, which are positive steps in the right direction. Also, the lockdown has had tremendous impact on the environment as the level of air pollution has drastically reduced and the restricted movement is making wildlife reclaim areas where they were absent for a long time. 

 

Q8. There has been an ongoing campaign “NewDealForNature” and People. What is the “NewDealForNature” and People? And what is NCF doing to contribute to the campaign?  

A8 The year 2020 has been termed the ‘Super Year for Nature’. It gives us an opportunity to pause and have a rethink of how we have been related with nature, which invariably has impact on people. The “NewDealForNature” and People is an opportunity to make ambitious global commitment to Nature because it is our life-support system – and therefore the component of people. In terms of NCF’s contribution, as early as November 2019, we hosted the first ever “NewDealForNature” and #People campaign focused on Businesses, where we tried to win them over to be on the side of Nature and People in their Business practices. This was made possible by the collaboration between Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and NCF (the only WWF Affiliate or country office in West Africa). Working with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), we hope to roll out programmes to ensure businesses are sustainability compliant. 

 

Q9. Given that the central focus of the “NewDealForNature” and People is to recalibrate human interaction with nature, what are your suggestions on the contributions of various stakeholders towards ensuring this is achieved? 

A9 I think the first thing is that there must be a paradigm shift, where instead of humans looking at ourselves as apart from nature, we will see ourselves as a part of nature. This will help us know that whatever happens to nature our life support system, we will be the first to be impacted and heavily. Humans, anatomically and physiologically, are the least equipped to live on earth and the earlier we realise that the safer it will be for us. We don’t have furs to cover our bare skin, no claws and no tails. So, if we don’t protect nature to protect us, nature will protect itself but at our detriment. This is the message humans need to hear to recalibrate our thinking. 

 

Q10. Do you have some advice on the post COVID19 recovery plans and strategies in Africa? 

A10 Any post COVID19 recovery plans that does not factor environmental consideration may likely not have much impact. The environment serve as a shock absorber to many especially the rural poor who were already the most vulnerable to climate change. So, the post COVID19 recovery plans and strategies should be seen as an opportunity to tackle not only the immediate effect of the pandemic, but the impact of climate change that has been hanging over them before the COVID-19 era. 

 

AN EXCERPT FROM TWEETCHAT ORGANISED BY AFRICA4NATURE HEALTH INITIATIVE IN COMMEMORATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR BIODIVERSITY 2020.