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2018 Whitley Award
The Peregrine Fund
Munir Virani Kenya Terrestrial
Game of poisons: a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures

valuing vultures

The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is renowned for its wildlife: lion, elephant, wildebeest, zebra and giraffe. Encircling them all is an overlooked guardian – the vultures, comprising six threatened species, four of them critically endangered. This “clean-up crew” is vital to the health and hygiene of the plains. Referred to locally as “Serengeti soap,” these scavengers swiftly consume rotting carcasses, preventing the spread of disease. However, the value of vultures is only really understood once they start disappearing.

poisoning peril

Suffering a precipitous decline in numbers of over 70% in 30 years, East African vultures are collateral damage in the war between livestock herders and predators. In retaliation for the loss of livestock to big cats, farmers resort to poisoning carcasses in the hope of reducing predator numbers. The subsequent incidental killing of vultures is catastrophic, with effects reverberating throughout the entire ecosystem.

africa-wide action

Bowled over by raptors, Munir swapped his early cricketing ambitions for a lifetime studying the drivers of vulture declines in Asia and Africa to inform conservation action. He now leads The Peregrine Fund’s Africa programme. His successful scheme to mitigate vulture poisoning by engaging communities in the Masai Mara saw cases drop by nearly 50% in 2016 and he is now poised to scale up.

munir’s project will:

  • Expand into Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley, focusing on reducing poisoning in five high-risk areas.
  • Work with pastoralists and an alliance of NGOs to reduce livestock predation using predator deterrents and fortified livestock enclosures.
  • Train 30 conservation leaders to champion anti-poisoning programmes in their communities and respond to incidents.
  • Tag 20 vultures to increase understanding of habitat use, monitor fatalities and target future conservation interventions.

Why it matters:

  • The project will serve as a model for other African countries.
  • Munir is training the next generation of leaders to drive campaigns throughout Kenya.
  • A poisoning incident killed 40 vultures in early 2018, making this work urgent.

“Our project offers solutions that safeguard people’s way of life, enables champions, and takes on a continent-wide threat that is unprecedented for any other species.”