Report on Kwando Vulture poisoning investigation 16 November 2013
By J.W. McNutt, J. Bradley and P. Hancock
As previous report dated 21 August 2013 described an aerial investigation conducted on 19 August of a poisoned elephant carcass with nearby dead vultures in the Kwando Concession (NG14). Coordinates of the poisoning were originally communicated by Kwando Safaris to Pete Hancock. Photographs taken on 19 August from the air showed evidence of what appeared to be dozens of dead vultures around some skeletal remains of an elephant.
The 21 August report of this cursory aerial investigation written by Dr James Bradley, of Kalahari Research and Conservation, and Dr J.W. McNutt, Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, was disributed to interested stakeholders. Due to the photographic evidence of large numbers of dead vultures, the report emphasized the importance of further investigation on the ground. Ground investigation options were discussed with the concession holders, but prior to mid-November, an investigation of the remote site had not been organized and no ground investigation had been conducted.
Three ephant carcasses were located approximately 300m apart at wpts: 1) S18.21711 E23.19047, 2) S18.21698 E23.19336, and 3) S18.21864 E23.18891 (Map Datum WGS84).
1. Elephant Carcass 1: 286 dead vultures were estimated by counting, 228 individual pelvic structures were collected, and sculls used to identify species included 4 Lappet-faced and 2 Hooded Vultures (the remainder were presumed to be White-backed)
2. Carcass 2: 38 dead vultures were estimated by counting, 34 individual pelvic structures were collected, all were White-backed
3. Elephant Carcass 3: Two (2) White-backed Vultures were found
No tusks were present at any of these three remains. Two of the three skulls show evidence that tusks were chopped out probably by axe. All three carcasses showed evidence of having been burned. All three were <_150 a="" from="" nearby="" p="" track.="" vehicle="">Samples of a pink splattered substance found on the feathers of dead vultures lying beneath the largest tree 20m from the elephant carcass were collected for possible analysis and identification.
At the main poison site (Elephant Carcass 1) we estimated 286 dead vultures by counting carcass remains. From among those remains 228 individual pelvic structures were collected. Skulls were used to identify species and included to identify species and included 4 Lappet-faced and 2 hooded vultures (the remainder were presumed to be White-backed). At Elephan Carcass 2, 38 dead vultures were estimated by counting, and 34 individuals pelvic bones were collected. All were White-backed vultures. Carcass 3, located 300m from carcass 1, was within 15m of the near by road (track) and only two White-backed Vulture remains were found. Although no tusks were present, we saw no evidence of chopping of the maxilla on this elephant skull.
It is possible that all three carcasses were poisoned, but the majority of the dead birds were found at Carcass 1. Another 38 vultures died at carcass 2. Both these carcasses were further from the road (>100m) than the third carcass. The date of the poisoning is unknown, and we have no knowledge of who burned the carcasses, nor whether any vulture carcasses were also burned at the same time. It is noteworthy that no dead vultures were found within 2-3m of the burned elephant remains at carcasses 1 and 2. Given the distribution of dead birds elsewhere in the vicinity, we consider it likely that an unknown and unrecoverable number of vulture carcasses were burned when the elephants were burned.
Therefore, our estimate is 326 dead vultures (collectively from all 3 elephant carcasses) represented by the remains of vulture carcasses still present on 16 November at least 6 months after they died is likely to be conservative. The absoluet minimum number of 264 dead vultures is based on collected and counted synsacrum bones.