Scientists and conservatists are sounding the alarm over the wanton poisoning of rare birds along Lake Victoria by illegal hunters which is now threatening tourism in the area that is already picking up and reverse gains made in controlling common diseases in the area which the birds have assisted in containing.
Illegal hunters have taken advantage of the fact that thousands of migrant and wetland bird species appear on rice plantations every year, some having flown from as far away as Northern Europe and Asia to spend the winter months in the southern hemisphere. During the rainy season, which is also the time for planting, water floods the fields and attracts a variety of wetland birds.
Poachers interested in the birds for sale as food place rice grains laced with the pink-coloured Furadan in areas where these waterfowls congregate. Poachers then wait till the birds have consumed the bait, and they succumb very quickly, before collecting the poisoned birds.
Up to 50 per cent of large flocks of waterfowl are killed in single sessions which amount to some 6,000 birds per month. “Bushmeat is more often associated with mammals,” said Martin Odino a conservatist in the area. “Birds are overlooked as a lesser tourist attraction. Yet many of these are important indicator species of the state of the environment.”
Other methods used by the poachers to kill the birds include lacing snails with Carbofuran granules, another highly poisonous pesticide. The bait is then left in the fields where it’s consumed by a variety of birds including wild ducks, open-billed and yellow-billed storks, egrets and snipes. After eating the poisoned snail, the larger birds are clubbed to death and the contaminated meat is then sold in local markets.
One particular bird species that might have a directly beneficial role to humans but which is a favourite target for Carbofuran poisoning is the African open-billed stork. This bird is a specialist snail feeder which might have a role in controlling the spread of bilharzia by feeding on the water snail that carries the bilharzia parasite.
The illegal hunters are now selling the meat to local traders and those from Uganda for as little as Sh200 a bird.
Written by Dominic Wandati for African Laughter