MAPUTO, A poacher has been arrested for deliberately poisoning at least 104 vultures at Mbashene in Moamba district, about 70 kilometres north of the Mozambican capital, Maputo.

Several species of vultures were killed. According to the National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC), 80 of them were white-backed vultures (Gyps Africanus) and 17 were hooded vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus), both of which are classified as endangered species in Mozambique.

The poacher, 62-year-old Nelson Machel, has been arrested. He is accused of putting a powerful poison on the body of an elephant which had been killed for its tusks. The vultures flocked to the carcass and succumbed to the poison.

Some of the vultures may have flown away from the carcass, and only died from the poison later and therefore the death toll may rise.

Machel was found in possession of two elephant tusks and a flask of the poison. He confessed to poisoning the vultures, but he denied killing the three elephants found at Mbashene.

The reasons for the poisoning are still being investigated, but several of the birds were mutilated, which suggests the extraction of vulture body parts, possibly for use in superstitious rituals.

It was the operator of the Incomati conservancy, adjacent to Mbashene, Dries Gows, who first became aware of the poisoning, and alerted the ANAC, which in turn contacted the Mozambican Environmental Protection police unit (PPRMNA).

The PPRMNA arrested Machel the day after the poisoning in Moamba village of Tombine-Sabie, and he is being held at the Moamba district police command.

A wildlife veterinarian from South Africa’s Kruger National Park, and a vet from the Sabie Game Park, Joao Simoes de Almeida, were called in to help administer an antidote to save the lives of the 17 surviving vultures.

The ANAC warned that this incident draws attention to the growing threat of the use of poison by poachers to kill wildlife. Vultures are a key part of the ecosystem but face serious threats. Some African vulture species have declined by 80 per cent over the past three decades.