– A Zambian snap-assessment

André Botha, Manager, EWT Vultures for Africa

A two-week field trip to Zambia during August 2019 provided the EWT’s Vultures for Africa Programme an opportunity to conduct the first Wildlife Poisoning Response Training workshop in the North Luangwa National Park to train rangers and other staff of the Park to effectively identify and respond to wildlife poisoning incidents when they happen in this part of the Luangwa Valley. The area has been identified as a wildlife poisoning hotspot following a number of wildlife poisoning events since 2013. The largest of these events happened when a poached elephant carcass was poisoned and killed 302 vultures in October 2013. The workshop also provided an opportunity to initiate the training of three BirdWatch Zambia staff members Chaona Phiri, Mary Malasa and Kelvin Mkandawire as facilitators of possible future workshops in Zambia as part of the EWT-Hawk Conservancy-University of Reading partnership’s project supported by the US-FWS.

In the week preceding the training at North Luangwa, BirdWatch staff decided to do an assessment of the availability and accessibility of the range of pesticides commonly used in wildlife poisoning on the streets of Lusaka. A few hours of shopping confirmed that there are many dealers stocking these products and that purchasing any product is as simple as asking for it and handing over the cash. Dealers seldom bothered to enquire what the pesticides were being purchased for and no record was kept of the transactions that were concluded. Within no time, they were able to purchase substantial quantities of highly toxic chemicals such as Carbofuran (one of the most widely used pesticides in wildlife poisoning globally), Monocrotophos and Endosulfan (both banned in South Africa since the early 2010s) at very affordable prices. One kilogramme of Carbofuran was bought for a mere ZMW76,00 or R88,00.

Business at the so-called “Agro-shops or dealers” is brisk and shoppers have a range of choices in terms of products and suppliers. This is not uncommon in most of the towns we passed on our route.
The range of products which BirdWatch staff were able to purchase in a couple of hours of shopping in downtown Lusaka with prices indicated in Zambian Kwacha. The 1 kilogramme pack of Carbofuran on the left is highly toxic and such a quantity can kill thousands of animals.

We were able to repeat this assessment in the eastern Zambian city of Chipata when travelling back from North Luangwa National Park a few days after training. It was hardly surprising that we were able to acquire a similar range of substances from various suppliers at affordable prices, again with little or no questions asked about our intended use thereof. Substances easily acquired included Chlorpyrifos, another pesticide banned in South Africa in 2011. It was noticeable that people of varying ages, including children, were able to walk into a store, ask for and purchase a range of chemicals and veterinary medicines in Chipata without much scrutiny or any record-keeping processes as required by law being followed. It is hardly surprising that these substances are often used in the killing of wildlife.

We counted a total of 7 dealers in agro-chemicals and other pesticides along this road in the town of Nyimba, eastern Zambiia.

From Chipata we travelled to the Munyamadzi Game Reserve passing villages such as Chiabala and Chilye where we noticed small groups of young males selling large quantities of roasted rodents on sticks to passing travellers. This reminded me of a conversation during a training workshop in nearby Malawi the year before when one of the rangers shared the fact that the preferred method of killing rodents in the area was the use of Aldicarb (Temik) which killed large numbers of these animals during outbreaks. Another “advantage” associated with the use of this highly toxic pesticide was that the rodents died at or near the poisoned baits, something which does not occur with commercially available rodenticides that normally take longer to kill animals that consume them and whose victims are seldom found near where the baits have placed. The use of Aldicarb therefor makes animals killed by this means easier to collect, cook and sell to consumers as a source of protein. Consumers of animals killed in this manner seem to be oblivious to the potential risk of this practice.

The situation in Zambia is certainly not unique and we have encountered similar circumstances in most SADC and east African countries over the last few years where, even if adequate legislation and guidelines with regard to the use of highly toxic pesticides are in place, enforcement of laws and control of these substances are often poor or non-existent. This also applies to South Africa where pesticides such as Aldicarb (Temik) are the most widely used substances in the illegal poisoning of wildlife and domestic animals and can be easily obtained at minimal cost and effort in many informal markets across the country, despite being withdrawn from formal trade in 2011 and being banned since 2014.

Young men selling roasted rodents to passers-by along the main road between Chipata and Lusaka. No one seems too concerned to enquire about the methods used to catch and kill such large numbers of these animals.