Circling the Issue of Pesticide Poisoning

Circling the Issue of Pesticide Poisoning

Vultures are nature’s “clean-up crew”, important scavengers that are able to dispose of carcasses more quickly and efficiently than any other vertebrate on Earth. Sadly, as exposed recently on an episode of DSTV’s Carte Blanche, hundreds of these birds have been found dead as a result of poisoning. 

The decline in apex scavengers like vultures can drastically alter food webs, as well as impact disease management. Chemicals can also indiscriminately poison non-target carnivores, insects and other scavengers. The issue is made even more concerning by the fact that 69% of all vulture species are already listed as threatened or near-threatened; most of these classified as endangered or critically endangered.

Why are vultures being poisoned?

Carte Blanche’s exposé cited several reasons why vultures may be poisoned:

  • Deliberate targeting for their body parts to be sold in muthi markets
  • Sentinel poisoning to conceal a poached kill (to prevent having vultures circling around a kill and exposing the activities of the poachers)
  • Livestock owners lacing meat, fruit and carcasses with toxic pesticides to kill predators
  • Pesticides used by farmers in the area leaching into the natural environment.

The issue of vulture poisoning highlights the detrimental effects of pesticides on the delicate ecology of birdlife and other creatures that are integral to the natural circle of life. These poisons not only affect vultures and birds, but can have potentially significant effects on the health of humans, wildlife and the ecosystem.

The silent killers in our food chain

Wildlife poisoning is one of the most serious impacts that our ecology is facing. This includes the use of herbicides and pesticides. When plants or animals are poisoned, this removes an essential organism from the ecosystem; one that can never be replaced. 

To prevent poisoning of wildlife, farmers need to stick to instructions on pesticide labels, follow the warnings and precautions, and lock pesticides away when not in use. Farm workers should be trained on the safe handling of these inputs and warned against the potential threat of criminal syndicates that may want to get their hands on these products. Ideally, they should also be educated as to the value in the ecosystem of vultures and why it is critically important to maintain their populations. 

Although safe handling of pesticides may help reduce instances of wildlife poisoning, the best solution is for farmers to move away from pesticide and herbicide use entirely. To some, this may sound like a lofty ambition, but, with a commitment to long-term, sustainable solutions, it is certainly possible. 

By implementing sustainable farming methods and focusing on soil health, farmers can produce healthy plants and crops from the inside-out, instead of relying on potentially harmful chemical inputs.

A healthy soil produces healthy plants that are pest- and disease-resistant, which means less reliance on pesticides and herbicides; and fewer herbicides and pesticides leads to less wildlife and habitat destruction and more diversity, allowing farmers to feed the world’s growing population in a sustainable manner. 

Get in touch with the Zylem team to find out more about how to improve soil health, reduce chemical inputs and farm more ethically and sustainably. Contact us on 033 347 2893 or send your enquiry to

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