Vulture declines are uniquely problematic for socioecological systems because they are nature's most important scavengers. Intentional and unintentional poisoning, human-wildlife conflict, energy infrastructure, belief-based use, and illegal hunting activities remain threats to vulture populations across Africa. Conservation stakeholders have identified evidence that a number of vulture species in particular ecosystems are being systematically targeted by poisoning with potentially significant effects on human, wildlife and ecosystem health. We explored the extent to which an interdisciplinary expert-team approach linking conservation and criminology could help inform efforts to prevent poisoning of Africa's vultures. We used the case of illegal vulture poisoning and conservation in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), a known poisoning site, as an exemplar. We used an interdisciplinary framework, conservation criminology, to guide a desk assessment of how the local environment may create opportunities for illegal poisoning. Our assessment was conducted as a science team and included multiple iterations and structured discourse. The assessment identifies different elements of vulture poisoning and the opportunity factors that can both underly the problem and inform prevention strategies and tactics. We discuss controlling tools and weapons, extending local guardianship, denying benefits, reducing frustration and stress, and assisting compliance to help prevent illegal poisoning. Results provide insights into harm prevention using evidence-based theory and illustrate the positive potential of interdisciplinary team science for vulture conservation. With additional application, monitoring and evaluation, strategies and tactics explored in this desk assessment may be revised and implemented and portend other benefits for vulture conservation beyond poisoning; the spread of beneficial influence could be a welcome force multiplier for this important scavenger guild.
Read the article in Global Ecology and Conservation.