We try to understand the motive of bird poisoning or other killing of the cases we encounter so as to better understand what we are standing up against. This in turn helps us to be able to know how to formulate applicable solutions. Broadly, bird poisoning and general poaching in Bunyala is a cultural issue and we are trying to straighten the bent perceptions of the wild killing of birds because traditionally bird meat is a delicacy and also apparently biblically God has availed birds to our use-according to locals; in this case poisoning and eating them at will! The part on caring for the creation is obviously omitted. However, other reasons for bird poaching are also in play inclusive of poverty, ignorance and idleness! I must be honest that while our vigilance strategy this palaearctic bird migration season aims at changing poachers into conservationist scouts and eventually guides, this will not be applicable to all the poachers. Some are tough and stubborn and while it is unfortunate, these may have to be reported to local chiefs or other authorities who may end up getting them arrested, others will switch to other activities especially fishing or rice farming. Still others will remain poachers and play hide and seek with my team snatching every available opportunity to poison and kill birds. Either way, understanding these cases places us in a sound position to reason out on how to deal with the bird poaching issues. This we are managing, one step at a time.
LOST, the Long Crested Eagle that my team & I found trapped by a snap trap on 10/09/2012 brought to light another threat that may just be as deadly effective and operational at Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. I write ‘deadly effective’ because the trapping method discovered may just be as detrimental to raptors/birds of prey with small populations as poisoning is to species with larger populations. In fact, the method is an additional threat to the raptors that are already at intoxication risk from consumption of intoxicated smaller species if the latter are poison-baited. Our current vigilant monitoring tries to eliminate poisoning but may miss out on trapping if we are not careful since clearly this is an alternative that rogue poisoning poachers may just supplement their curtailed poisoning activities for. It is worse if this is employed out of the rice scheme borders where our activities are currently focused.
LOST’s disturbing demise though put behind left me with a lot of unanswered questions. First, were birds of prey being targeted for consumption as well? & did LOST succumb to his lacerated ankle wound or was he killed? In deed I was much in contact with raptor specialist Simon Thomsett after the incident and he opened my eyes to the lessons that lay ahead from the dejecting failed rescue then loss and death of LOST. He echoed my thought that I should do a post mortem on the bird’s carcass and I thought I would also follow up on the seemingly imprecise motive behind the trapping of the bird.
Lost in agony before he was released from the snap-trap
I performed a post mortem on LOST’s carcass guided by Simon’s instructions which revealed that he was killed the evening he disappeared having prior been trapped with the intention of being eaten as food as my follow up investigations found out. The opened cranium of the bird had accumulated blood in the cavity with no obvious external wound on the inspected head. In expertly opinion, this would suggest blunt trauma. I will not share images of the opened up cranium of the bird due to their graphic nature. The birds viscera were also partly eaten especially the gut leaving a gouged out pannel (stomach) and vent region alongside the entire gullet. The lungs, liver and heart were still intact.
Lost’s injured right leg from the snap trap
The predator that may have done this is unknown though he managed to partially consume the inner organs. I would think he lacked the ability of removing feathers which remained intact throughout the rest of the eagle’s body. I posit that our likely scavenging predator is small-stomached or he may have been interrupted probably by a human intruder since the eagle’s carcass was found along a foot path in the open much as there were a few bushes around.
On the next morning, our survey path covered the region where we had rescued the eagle from. I curiously and patiently watched for birds perching on the tree on which lost had perched whenever my view diverted from scouting the rice scheme for poisoning and other birds. Part of my speech that convinced the poachers to let me have the bird was a challenge question that if it was true this eagle habitually fed on their chicken, how did they kn0w this was the same bird? I had told them that LOST may likely have been one of the many Long Crested Eagles coming to the favourite perch that likely provides a vantage point for any subject that is scouting the rice scheme for prey. Before long, my patience paid & a different bird came and perched on the same tree that LOST had landed on the snap trap. This time however, there was no trap to snap and gnaw at this new subject’s leg.
Another Long Crested Eagle perched where LOST was trapped
The poachers had giggled when I asked if they intended to eat the bird now that it was trapped! I was focused on freeing and saving the bird in agony but I thought I had the answer to my question. The lack of a definite ‘NO’ response could well mean a ‘YES’. When I got hold of Lost at last and felt his keel, I thought it was so sharp. In addition his crop was empty so the bird was not feeding well. I immediately thought may be the old bird may then have well taken to easy hunting of chicks at the homestead as the poachers alleged. I moved closer to the tree as I had for Lost to get photos of the new bird with a bad feeling in my heart that I was right that poor LOST may not have been the only unpleasant predator but sadly fell the victim. The new bird was a new bird at its prime as reflected by much darker, less worn plumage. Following is his image when he flew to a nearby tree.
The other Long Crested Eagle that perched on LOST’s last tree perch
In my focused ‘photo-shoot’ session of this other bird, I was lucky to get the missing piece of the puzzle as to the true motive behind LOST’s killing. A few kids watched me from the home’s houses waiting eagerly to be shown the images on the LCD of the strange gadget (my camera) used by this mysterious man! I always do this to ease tension and capture audience of the on-lookers. In what seemed to be a new audience this day, two ladies approached from a field at the back of the homestead and one lady quickly took to enlightening the other of how I am a ‘friend of the birds’ and to directly translate, I was now engaged in a crusade to befriend poachers to birds! He then recounted how the previous day I had snatched away a bird meal from his son! That it was a good thing they were not poultry keepers or else such creatures would eat all their chicken! Aha, so there were no chicks in the home as had been alleged and that LOST habitually hunted them. LOST was just another bird meat meal. I therefore take it that the predatory story was to justify their kill just in case I was going to recommend their arrest. For another likely reason, they were trying to hide the snap-trap’s application to catch birds for consumption which would fool me and my team that we have contained poisoning when trapping would actually continue behind the scenes.
To put it simply, LOST escaped being eaten by humans but did not survive the killing blow of a hating, misinformed villager. Similar hating, misinformed persons may have also released him from the makeshift enclosure while I was gone to get a hawk box constructed for the bird.
Nonetheless I have since met the eagle-trapping & also other bird poisoning poacher on 2 occasions and while he is terrified of what is to follow next since I have discovered the trapping technique, he is willing to join the vigilance strategy to stay safe for now, but I guess we can show him how to better harness the avian resource than kill it.
I am faced by an even more extensive network of poacher’s than I earlier perceived which is why your support is needed. This will go a long way to maintain the ‘converts’ and contribute to ending the deadly bird poaching primarily through poisoning or otherwise other related techniques.
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