Jan. 30, 2013 — A first ever study of the range and habits of white-backed vultures across southern Africa shows that they often shun national parks, preferring to forage further afield on private farmland.
This behaviour and their tendency to scavenge in groups, means that vultures risk encountering dead cattle that have been administered veterinary drugs that are poisonous to them, or even poisoned carcasses intended to control other carnivores such as jackals.
The research, using Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transmitters to track the movements of adolescent vultures, is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The white-backed vulture is a widespread but declining species in Africa and it is now listed as endangered. In India, several vulture species are on the verge of extinction due to accidental poisoning from cattle carcasses that contain anti-inflammatory drugs administered by farmers. These drugs are non-lethal to cattle yet fatal to vultures. There is a concern that these drugs could become more widely used in Africa.
Vultures prefer to feed in savannah grassland habitats and away from other competing carnivores, such as lions, and the new study shows that the birds will go to considerable lengths to find food, crossing multiple state boundaries, with each bird on average ranging across an area twice the size of England.