afrol News, 5 January - The government of Guinea has designated a specially protected area for vultures, the first of its kind in Africa. The 'vulture sanctuary' consists of approximately 450,000 ha in the Fouta Djallon Highlands, a region that holds a significant proportion of West Africa's vultures and which is Guinea's main tourist attraction.
Recent surveys of vultures have confirmed the seriousness of the regional decline and also located relict vulture populations in Mali and Gambia, where numbers are also dwindling. A large number of environmentalist groups therefore have welcomed the step by Guinean authorities to protect the "unpopular" bird.
"The decline in our vulture numbers is deeply disturbing" noted Mamadou Saliou Diallo of Guinée Écologie, a Guinean environmentalist group that has worked for years to realise the sanctuary. "But by protecting vultures in this way, we are making our first steps toward their recovery in the region," Mr Diallo added.
"This is encouraging news for conservationists, who are seriously concerned by recent findings showing that populations of six vulture species in the region have plummeted," the environmental group BirdLife said in a statement released today.
According to Guy Rondeau of the environmental group Africa Nature International, "vultures are vanishing from the skies of West Africa primarily because of human persecution. Indirect poisoning, caused by birds feeding on treated carcasses left out by livestock herders to control 'problem' animals - jackals, lions, hyenas - is also a significant reason for the drastic declines, and another factor is the increasing rarity of carcasses because of a decline in numbers of big-game throughout West Africa."
Conservation organisations, including Fauna and Flora International, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, and the IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands, have been working with Guinée Écologie under Africa Nature International's Duga Programme on a regional West African vulture conservation project aimed at stabilising vulture populations in rural refuges and helping numbers recover in the sub-region.
"Because of their role as scavengers, vultures are a crucial component of Africa's biodiversity" said Hazell Shokellu Thompson, of BirdLife's Africa Partnership Secretariat. "Helping to conserve them by protecting important areas has a positive 'knock-on' effect for other kinds of wildlife, many of which are facing similar threats."
A total of six vulture species are known to have declined dramatically in the West African region. This includes the Lappet-faced Vulture, which is included on the IUCN Red List, meaning it is a seriously endangered species. Widespread accidental poisoning, largely due to strychnine used by many farmers for predator control, has contributed significantly to this vulture's decline. It is also often mistakenly persecuted as a livestock predator.
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