A total of 537 critically endangered vultures and two tawny eagles were found dead in Botswana's north-east in one week.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, the Botswanan government confirmed that the poisoning took place in the southern African nation’s Central District. The government suspects poachers who killed three elephants had laced their carcasses with poisons. It also said the mass poisoning was "dangerous and harmful to the environment" and it urged members of the public to "desist from such illegal acts". Vultures circling a carcass can be seen from miles away, so poachers often poison them to prevent government officials from tracing their activity. Among the dead were also 17 white-headed vultures and 28 hooded vultures, which are "critically endangered" as well.
Teams decontaminated the area and samples were taken for laboratory analysis. "As vultures are late maturing and slow breeders, the magnitude of losing just under 600 vultures in one week is incomprehensible," said Kerri Wolter, CEO and Founder of conservation charity VulPro. The endangered birds are vital to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. In 2016, two lions and over 100 vultures in South Africa's Kruger National Park died after eating a poisoned elephant carcass.