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RESCUE AND REHABILITATION OF A POISONED EGYPTIAN GOOSE

CLindy Thompson (lindyt@ewt.org.za) and John Davies (EWT Birds of Prey Programme Field Officers), Rebecca Lambert and Nikita Jackson (Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre), and Carrie Hickman (APRN Ground Hornbill Project).

In December 2020, while conducting fieldwork along the Olifants River, we found a poorly-looking Egyptian Goose showing signs that indicated it might have been poisoned.  While the goose appeared to be in an otherwise good condition , with no visible injuries (broken bones or bleeding) or signs of trauma, it stumbled, fell, and rolled down the riverbank when it tried to get away from us as we approached. It was unable to fly. The African Wildlife Poisoning Database contains records of 724 Egyptian Geese that have been poisoned in Africa between 1998 and 2020. The substances used are usually organophosphates and carbamates (pesticides), and we think that most cases emanate from human-wildlife conflict due to crop damage by the geese. In this case, we suspect the goose may have been grazing in lucerne that was recently sprayed with insecticide.

We collected the unfortunate goose and drove it to Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, leaving it in the capable hands of their experienced clinic team. On its arrival, the Egyptian Goose was treated with Atropine (used to treat organophosphate and carbamate poisoning) and activated charcoal (which binds to many toxins and prevents their absorption), and then it was given Ringers solution (to replace fluids and electrolytes) every two hours. After that, the goose received tubed pet food (a recovery food that is easy to digest), and then later, it was fed with pigeon pellets, crushed mealies, mealworms, flying ants, and grasshoppers. On 4 February 2021, after all this treatment and time to heal, the rehab team was happy with the bird’s condition, and we released it close to where we found it on the Olifants River. It flew off as though nothing had happened, without a backward glance – just how we like it to be every time we return wildlife to the wild. Click here to see a video of this bird being released: https://www.instagram.com/p/CLB80t5AvGy/

After publicising this rescue on Instagram, people asked us why we bothered rescuing a bird many people view as a pest species because its numbers are increasing. Firstly, when we found the bird and realised that it had been poisoned and was suffering we decided to rescue and rehabilitate it as the possible death of this bird would have bene due to human action and not natural causes. Secondly, if we had left the poisoned goose in the bush and it had died, it may have been fed on by scavengers such as vultures and jackals, which in turn may have experienced secondary poisoning. Thirdly, the EWT’s John Davies’ work with the annual Balule Waterbird Survey showed that Egyptian Goose numbers have increased along the Olifants River and a few other river systems in the Lowveld, mainly due to the deterioration of water quality due to human actions and large-scale losses of riparian forest, which has created open banks suitable for this species. Egyptian Geese exploit suitable conditions, and when these environmental conditions change, we expect their numbers to decline again. In 2020, in Balule Game Reserve, there were 377 Egyptian Geese along 49.8 km of river, including 47 chicks, while 84 Egyptian Geese were counted near the Phalaborwa barrage, and 71 at Three Bridges, almost half were found at the two most transformed (polluted) sections of the Olifants River. For most of the river, the average number of Egyptian Geese was just over four adults per kilometre, likely still slightly higher than normal, but not excessive. This is similar to parts of the Kruger National Park large-scale loss of riparian habitat have taken place.

On the property where the goose was found, none of the 19 vulture nests we are monitoring was lost due to disturbance from Egyptian Geese. In fact, over the last six years of the EWT’s vulture nest-monitoring in the Lowveld, we have found only one case where an Egyptian Goose tried to breed in a nest still used by a recently-fledged Hooded Vulture. After numerous interactions between the geese and the vultures, the Goose’s breeding attempt failed, and there was no negative impact on the vultures. See here for more details

Thank you to Andre Botha for sharing records from the African Wildlife Poisoning Database, https://www.africanwildlifepoisoning.org/.

Please submit records of any poisoned wildlife to this database, and please contact Dr Gareth Tate at GarethT@ewt.org.za for details of Wildlife Poisoning Response Training in the Lowveld.