Tag Archives: Poaching

Status of deliberate bird poisoning for human consumption in Kenya

This video of struggling intoxicated African Openbills, recorded about a month ago sums up the current situation of bird poisoning in Bunyala, Kenya.

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During 2009, the first study of this kind in Kenya documented tallies of deliberately poisoned birds for human consumption in Bunyala Rice Irrigation Scheme. Over 30 species of birds were affected with over 3000 dying from poisoning out of the 8000 observed live individuals during 10 day surveys for 10 months . The dire effects of the practice to the human population have not yet been assessed but there is no doubt that humans continue to suffer unknowingly. These activities were highlighted on this blog and were for long regarded inaccurate and unreal, atimes outrageously branded as unlawful creations of the main authors of this blog; that we would direct the poison-poaching activities on the ground to create the scandalous effect then broadcast it to the public. Misunderstandings therefore ensued characterized by accusations and denials especially between WildlifeDirect and relevant government and other responsible departments with little action to arrest the situation. Nonetheless, we eventually settled on negotiations with a successful multi-institutional fact-finding trip to Bunyala during last year. Unanimous practical recommendations were passed by all involved but one year later, there has been no action to implement even the most vouched for effective recommendation- education campaign to the public.

Surveys during December 2011 – January 2012 observed an auspicious situation (although isolated cases of bird poisoning were still reported) with poaching teams reported disintegrated and absorbed in other trades particularly fishing and rice farming. This was attributed to the fact-finding trip that was regarded by locals as forewarning of the soon to follow punishment by government authorities. Local administrative officers on the site also stayed on high alert. In the few months that followed, I was informed on the improving situation on the ground mostly by telephone correspondence.

My visits at the site starting April 2012 however observed an escalating situation. On my first day of the survey, an intoxicated Openbill was pursued and captured on my camping grounds. The poacher immediately strangled the bird unaware that he was being watched. My 2 scouts also reported that there had been a massive dove and pigeon harvest through poisoning during March into April 2012. I noted during the few survey days that I was on site of May, June and July 2012, poisoning of Fulvous Whistling Ducks and the African Openbills. During this period there was flooding of the rice fields in preparation for the planting of the crop thereby attracting large flocks of water birds.

Above is my illustration that we are still faced by the dreadful problem of deliberate bird poisoning characterized by dismal attention from relevant authorities, meagre man power in the field and lack of the much needed funds. Yet someone has to act to rescue all biodiversity at stake here; to end the massacre on the birds at these important concentration centres for the species and potential human intoxications. We are just starting the Palaearctic and Oriental bird migration season into Kenya and other southerly territories. Poison-poaching activities will therefore conveniently peak at Bunyala and other major rice irrigation scheme with this problem to maximize kills on the abundant avian resource. I will therefore kindly call on your support in the next few days for localized education campaigns, advocacy initiatives and poacher recruits as scouts and birding guides.

A deep rooted poisoning culture

Our early start today seemed auspicious! not a poacher on sight at the expansive Bunyala Rice irrigation Scheme!0600hrs was the precise time that we set foot at the Eastern edge of the rice plantation. We continued our diplomatic educating and negotiating approach  while at the same time probed to get a feedback on how each poacher feels about this whole risky business of poisoning. Patiently we continue reiterating the possible implications of their reckless actions!

We stumbled on a seeming  peaceful flock of African Openbills and decided to take photo and film clips. My eye then caught a bird flapping one wing while lying on its side. All of a sudden the 50 or so strong took to the air.A frenzied young man had just turned up totally oblivious of our presence and ambushed the birds. In the end he picked up two carcases hastening his trot in the direction that the flock had flown off to, stick in hand. Certainly we were at a bird poisoning scene.

Picture taken on 2011-06-13

Picture taken on 2011-06-13

The two Openbills recovered by the poacher from the flock we were photographing

I sought his attention speaking out my name and requesting to take a look at the carcasses. The dialogue was short and he quickly highlighted that while he had full knowledge of the poison’s toxicity, he prepares the bait using bare hands after which he only rinses his hands with water (without necessarily any soap) ensuring the purple color of the crystals is washed off. He advices anyone to rid the birds of their entrails otherwise declares the meat very fit for human consumption. The reason for disposing of entrails has nothing to do with them containing the poison which in any case if washed one can just go ahead and eat them! He says this is a routine practice for wild bird meat preparation which even his father who was a poacher & introduced him to poaching used to perform though he employed nooses (a way better method in my opinion) in killing the birds. This young man’s dream wish is for Furadan to be made more readily available. He then sought permission to pursue his quarry!

Some distance away we stumble on the oldest poacher (in his 80’s) I know in the locality hunting gear crudely flung over his shoulder (live decoys). We could tell the captive birds’ orientation was tail-end up, heads down! The other hand held the bait bag and yellow container to carry water for washing and dissolving the purple poison – Furadan. He has lived through evolving generations of various animal & bird poaching techniques: catapults, bows & arrows, snares & nooses and now, poisoning.

Bunyala Poisoning, June 055

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:36:09

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:37:09

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:37:09

The feet & bill of the captive Openbill are protruding through the sack. The bill is kept shut by a rubber band tied around it.

This man lost her wife last year to an unknown causes but with knee joint rigidity & pain as predominant symptoms. Whether it was gout (should be in men) or knee paralysis due to carbofuran intoxication remains unknown as there was no autopsy performed. It is however known that the  lions poisoned using carbofuran in Masai Mara exhibited limb paralysis and this cannot be ruled out as a possible cause for this lady’s death. The old man also complains of on and off knee joint pains & rigidity though he says he is not sure if the trend is related to him eating the birds that he poisons. The gizzard is his favorite part of the bird!

At home, this seasoned poacher is relieved of the live decoys by his eldest grandson who takes them to a backyard wetland where they forage under close monitoring by the other youngsters lest they wander off.

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:48:06

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:48:06

Traumatized decoy: Legs tied togetherby a string to limit its movement

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:50:55

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:50:55

Carcass of a once captive openbill that lost its struggle with the trauma of captivity left out to rot in the backyard wetland

Already his father (the poachers son but not at home at the moment) has graduated into this lineage of new generation bird-poisoning poachers and there is no doubt the son is an apprentice in the making.

The kids and their mother praise the bird meat which is not a problem for them to access the supply coming from two skilled poachers.

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:58:40

Picture taken on 2011-06-13 07:58:40

It is sad to see the protuberant bellies of the children suggestive of  malnourishment but who might further be battling with repeated under-lethal-doses from carbofuran intoxication in the very meat that they readily consume. Their concerns about getting intoxicated are warded off as soon as the birds are dried of their body fluids on slow lighting embers prior to cooking.

This killer ought to be ‘quarantined’ in the least in order to rescue lives and to get these people to engage in more productive activities.

Poisoning threatens vultures in Tanzania, S.A., Namibia, Botswana

We have reported the tragic effects of pesticide poisoning on predators and vultures in Kenya wildlife and through our work we have come to learn that the problem is ocurring across Africa.  Vultures in particular are at risk across the continent.

In Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, pesticides containing carbofuran are being used to wipe out vultures. In a single poisoning incident tens of vultures can be killed.  Given that vultures are late maturing animals, that lay only 2 eggs every 4 years, the impact can be catastrophic to local populations.

Vultures in Selous Park Tanzania

Vultures poisoned near lake Tagalala in Selous Park Tanzania November 2009

Scientists in Tanzania report that this is the 3rd known incident in the Selous, and there were at least another two in Ruaha in the past 2 years and plus another recent one in Maswa.

In Botswana vultures are targeted by poachers who want to get rid of them because they attract the authorities to their kills. Farmers also lace meat to target hyenas and this often results in vulture kills as well.  So it is no surprise that researchers warn that the vulture is an endangered species and may be extinct in the next half century unless governments make efforts to save it.

In South Africa our colleague Tim Snow of the Endangered Wildlife Trust informs us that Temik which contains Aldicarb, another carbamate based pesticide, is used for targeting vultures and leopards for Muti – traditional healers. It is believed that those who consume the brain of a vulture will gain it’s eyesight and be able to see into the future. The problem is also threatening South African vultures. The use of muti is expected to increase with the 2010 World Cup Football matches in South Africa, because gamblers will try to predict who will win. In this case, vulture brains are the muti. The brains are smoked in the belief that the vultures’ acute vision will be passed to the smoker, giving them foresight.

Namibia: We have just received a report from the Animal Rehabilitation Research and Education Center in Namibia. They confirm that Furadan is also misused against predators there. In northern Namibia poison is used for lions and leopards. In southern Namibia the black-backed jackal is the target species for poison. Many non-target species also die including birds of prey, mostly vultures but also eagles and migrant kites. 

‘Watching your back’

Dear readers,

Watching and appreciating wildlife foraging, watering, roosting or even mating fills one with excitement of what a beauty nature is from deceptive harmony and nonchalance . But looking harder and witnessing them dash and dodge from their predators(including man) ; or huddle together because man has invaded their natural microhabitat and reduced it to almost none; or see them scrambling to dring drink murky, dirty water from a muddy pool because man’s activities have caused climate change inclusive of global warming and hence drying up waterbodies and sources reminds us how tough their survival is and therefore what a miserable beauty they are.

But there is always a way to counter these pressures on them but these ways have to go through the slow process of frog-leaping through a long period of time through myriads of generations probably up to millions of years.

Watching birds out here and contemplating their survival, I pick the natural “am watching your back” stance which reminds me that at some time before poisoning, poaching with modern artillery or even when highly skewed climate changes were not the order of nature, wildlife only had one major threat: predation and developed this watching your back technique that even in birds is so defined. I took these photos without the knowledge that I was capturing the phenomenon. I must have represented the predator! A beautiful presentation by the birds nonetheless.

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Malachite Kingfishers

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Sacred Ibises

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Little Egrets

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A Ruff and a White-faced Tree Duck

Unfortunately un-natural pressures by man are faster eveolving than naturally counter mechanisms by the poor wildlife. They have a long way to evolve against climate change, modern poaching inclusive of poisoning.

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Bird Poisoning: a desperate hunting technique?

We visited one poacher’s home at his invitation in Bunyala. This man is a renowned veteran hunter and he confirms in his melancholic narration of how once wild ungulates -‘large’ antelopes, gazelles and warthogs- as well as hares roamed the hilly relief features of Bunyala.

The old man, probably in his late 60’s says he still hunts but the frequency of going game hunting has gone to almost none given the fact that there are no longer many thick bushes as they used to be where they would flush out the animals . Instead, bird hunting has become a more reliable mode of poisoning but for the high cost of the pesticide which they use for poisoning the birds. According to him, him and the other bird hunters still get Furadan but he says they deal with middlemen and even they do not know the actual source of the pesticide much. He then asked me if I did not know that the government had banned the chemical. I think he was just siziing me up to know if for sure I am ‘the government’. Well he said they are all ears to the wind just in case somebody was out to arrest them.

In the 80’s and when game hunting was the giant source of wild meat and income, my interviewee (the old man) says he used to lead a team of other men, most of which he had trained himself. A pack of hunting dogs would accompany them and there was guaranteed succesful killing of quarry on every hunting expedition. He says they would ambush and kill the animals using clubs, spears, bows and arrows after having been led by their ‘sniffer’ dogs. This activity is no longer fruitful and the wild game have just gone under. Bird poisoning then picked up.

Traditionally, game birds were ‘intoxicated’ using traditional brew residue or grains soaked in local brew. The birds would then get disoriented, some even dropping to the ground then they would be picked for human consumption. The same way, Furadan poisoning evolved. This picked up easily because manpower was there, just diverted from game poaching. Further, Furadan killled numerous birds which is what was required if the income return from the birds poisoned had to measure up with the returns from game poaching.

But the old man sighed and said that even with Furadan, this contemporary form of poaching (bird poisoning) never really measured up to the old game poaching. His general observations are that birds are on the decline. He also says poaching, (it became poisoning) was and still is an economic activity, acording to him just like there were and still are traders, farmers and fishermen in the local set up, adding that poachers who are now employing poisoning will continue to as long as there is a poison to be used. If anything, there is no other animal to be poached.

The old man is a proud poacher but certainly not proud of what bird poisoning has made of him: he still wallows in poverty, despite bird poaching providing quick money . His home only boasts 3 dilapidated houses, of which 1 is his son’s who is also a poacher. I asked him if given that he was the living grand master behind the poaching and poisoning apprenticeship if he would help me change the minds of the men wasting their lives poaching poor birds by advocating for alternatives that I preached and hoped to fund raise for. The man mischievously asked if i would pay him. Well, I told him I would look into that but I think if he meant well for the society, then he would be relieved and satisfied to see that his community was on its feet after abandonng degrading and derogatory poisoning even without pay.

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My host’s home: This photo was actually taken inside the compound which is demarcated by widely spaced tree line with decoy storks for use in poisoning seemingly being the only life forms gracing the home.

Besides being a poacher, my interviewee is a herdsman by day and watchman to one well off homested by night.

It is a society in dire need of liberation much as the process is painfully slow and frustrating to the persons and process of trying to impliment it.

Survival alienated from bird poisoning

Dear readers, no doubt pastoralists poison carnivores-lions, leopards – and in the event scavengers-hyenas and vultures -get killed because of an incessant livestock feud between man and carnivore; prestigious wealth to the pastoralists and food for carnivores whose habitat has been encroached into and food supply as wild game greatly cut short.

Wild bird meat consumers on the other hand are presumed to feed on the ‘cheaper meat’ because they cannot afford properly domestic animal meat sold in butcheries. But just how cheap is the wild meat?

Bush meat dealers are modestly wealthy elites who hang in the business and at any one time skulk the wilderness with a fortune. This is apparent when they are arrested but will comfortably bail themselves out by paying 40 dollars easily thereby avoid the jail walls and get back to killing wildlife as soon as they can. As a matter of fact, the money they get from their business is in most cases that made by the cattle rancher who breeds and sells beef cattle. To further illustrate the lucrativeness of their business is the fact that their commodity is not just sold locally but is also exported.

Bird poisoning by all means also falls under bush meat business with birds sold for consumption. As low class poaching as it may seem, meant to cater for the poor consumer, a critical consideration shows otherwise. When you consider unit costs for the bird meat and compare it to unit costs for the common properly sold meat, beef, it is cheaper or the same price. The Open-billed Storks weigh hardly heavier than 700 grams on the average and cost 1 dollar. The weight is inclusive of feathers, entrails, legs and head parts which are normally discarded. In the end we are talking of about 400 grams being sold at 1 dollar. On the other hand, 500 grams of beef costs up to a minimum of 1.25 dollars. This is healthy meat and you are sure the cattle were not poisoned.

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About 250 grams for 0.75 dollars

Traditionally, Africans fed on wild meat; there were occupational hunters and these always supplied the rest of the community with ‘rich’ wild meat. It was believed wild meat kept people strong and free of illnesses and together with wild vegetables ensured long life. The habit is on and wild bird meat eating is an aspect of it with about unchanged beliefs on the advantages of wild meat but has become more backward with poisoning.

People, myself inclusive have perceived that domestic animals in rural areas like Bunyala are an investment and reserved for special occasions but that is not significantly so. Not if visitors and convalescing patients are purchased for poisoned birds to eat; not if cattle are not sold to take children to school but instead the relatives that have moved out to towns and therefore presumed to have more income than their requirements are contacted for the education of the ‘poor’ parents’ children in the countryside and not if the poisoning is frenzied and the reason for which reared animal in part supposed to provide protein is reserved for prestige and nothing else.

Chicken roam in scores in the homesteads; cattle in herds and schools of fish are netted and available to the consumers in sizes from tiny to big and therefore fit for all ranges of expenditure.

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Cattle in Ahero

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Fish in Bunyala

Furadan in Ahero

Dear readers. Apologies for my long silence and thank you all for your well wishes while I waas sick. I am well and on my feet at last and in Ahero Rice Scheme. We have Furadan here!..and certainly confirmed Swine Flu in the backyard that is Kisumu Town!

Ahero is to the East and about 30 kilometres from Kenya’s largest Lake Victoria urban centre otherwise Kisumu City. I arrived in the small hours of the morning yesterday and rashly got a place that I will be coming to in the evening for the few days that I will be out here.

In the field, I got off the vehicle at the wrong stage. I thought it was fun because I always do bird surveys whenever and wherever. One local old man told me I was ’20 shillings away’ from Ahero Rice Scheme. I chose to look at my birds and walk the ’20 shillings ‘away and stretch my joints that just a few days back were stiffened by Malaria. Interesting diversity and soon I was at the expanse that is the Ahero rice growing fields.

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A Rufous-bellied Heron not a common species unless you are in Kenya’s western flood plains

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Ahero Rice Scheme

Checking around there were no signs of harvesting or planting which would correspond with large congregations of birds and poachers attracted to poison the birds. A samaritan noticed my frustration and informed me there was some planting in two of the so called blocks (a collection of plots assigned an alphabetic letter); he poijnted to one in the East and the other in the West.I decided to walk East.

Marveling at a large flock of grey-crowned cranes, some spoon bills and a Yellow-billed Stork, young boys herding cattle came to me and asked to use , rather be taught to use my binoculars. They asked me what I was doingand I told them Iwas looking at birds. One of them then asked me if I was looking for ‘birds to eat’ and I said I would not mind seeing those as well. He sighed that my timing was wrong and wish I had come at planting or harvesting time.

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Close up of the large flock of gre-crowned Cranes

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African Spoonbills

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New friends in the field!The boys having a good time with my binoculars; part of the crowd that generously gave me information about Furadan in Ahero

I sought details from the boys and the small crowd of men that gathered about me in curiosity. I admired their honesty, looking at poisoning as if it is a normal traditional game hunting method. “We use Faradam” Faradam is the corrupted version of the name Furadan. I was infact corrected that it is not ‘Furadan’ but ‘Faradam’, so I adopted the term to get as much information as possible.

“It kills every bird and is very toxic. You must eviscerate the digetsive system, put it on dry heat and when all the tissue fluids have drained, proceed on to cook and you wont die”, one man gave details of preparation of poisoned birds. At about that time, a Peregrine Falcon casually soared overhead, hunting for doves I would bet which flew in scattered directions for their lives. One of the children called it by local name ‘Otenga’, actually the general name for raptor in traditional Luo dialect. The boy said that at home, they put ‘Faradam on Ogwal’ (Ogwal is frog in Luo) and the raptors that feed on their chicken drop dead as soon as they are done with the frog meal. I guessed this raptor may be the black kite which is a scavenger but who knows for sure? the kids insisted on a painting iin my book that was a Goshawk.

So much for the details on Furadan use for poisoning birds,I now sought to know where I can get the poison because I was curious to see the poison that could get meat on the table so easily. The boys and men for once got totally engaged in Luo language in a constructive debate of where I could easily get Furadan, sorry Faradam for now! I missed the broken Kiswahili that I can pick words and make out what the sentences are all about. However I got ‘Ahero’ and Board’. I asked if they were saying that I can get the poison at the irrrigation board and at Ahero shopping Center?

I was right. The older boy however explained that I would need to know somebody at the board to get it faster from me at the irrigation board and lately many people had opted to buy it from Ahero where the smallest pack costs Ksh. 150. The figure is not so outlying from my earlier surveys elsewhere in the country. Only a little higher which may be explains the scarcity of the commodity.

So Furadan is in Ahero and it is shocking that unlike the other sites I have been to where the name furadan sends chills to the people and rouses their curiosity against me, in Ahero it is just another commodity for poisoning birds and more shocking not at all known as a pesticidde!