KEY POINTS

  • Over 600 vultures were found dead in West Africa
  • Authorities ruled out poisoning as a possible cause for the die-off event
  • A species of vulture listed as critically endangered is affected by the die-off event

A conservation group has confirmed that over 600 vultures have already died in an ongoing die-off event in West Africa. According to experts, the exact cause of the deaths of the birds is not yet clear.

The latest mass animal die-off event was reported by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). It was detected in the West African country of Guinea-Bissau.

The VCF confirmed the die-off event last month after receiving reports that about 200 vultures were found dead in the eastern province of Bafata. Then, the death toll increased substantially until it reached 648 on Feb. 28. Experts believe more vultures will die in the region as the die-off event continues.

Due to the high number of deaths within a short period, investigators initially believed that the birds were poisoned. However, after further investigations, authorities ruled out poisoning since this kind of incident tends to appear only in concentrated areas. Currently, investigators and conservation experts are still trying to determine the exact cause of the die-off.

The mysterious event has prompted the country’s Ministries of Public Health, Agriculture and Forestry and the Secretary of State for the Environment to deploy quick response teams to Bafata in an attempt to contain the die-off. To minimize the possible spread poison, virus or infection to other vultures, the response teams have started incinerating the carcasses.

The VCF praised the local agencies’ quick efforts. Aside from curbing the die-off event, getting rid of the carcasses will also ensure public health safety.

“The authorities so far have been very responsive and acted quickly – this needs to be maintained until the cause of mortality is found,” Jose Tavares, the director of the VCF said in a statement.

The latest die-off event is being regarded as a huge blow to conservation efforts directed at vultures. As noted by the VCF, vulture populations in Africa have dramatically declined within recent years. This prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list three species of vultures as endangered and another four as critically endangered.

According to reports, one of the vulture species most affected by the ongoing die-off event is the Hooded Vulture. As noted by the VCF, this is one of the species listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

German cops training vultures Vultures gather near a vulture restaurant in Pokhara, west Nepal October 13, 2010. The authorities say the number of vulture species has increased since the opening of these restaurants in Nepal. A new vulture restaurant was opened on October 12 to save the endangered animals and preserve their environment. Photo: REUTERS/Krishna Mani Baral